In most birth settings, just as soon as a baby is born the umbilical cord is clamped and a parent or nurse typically makes the grand gesture of cutting it. But what if this isn’t the healthiest thing for your newborn? What if there are reasons to delay clamping, and then cutting, baby’s cord?

Keep That Cord Pulsing

The real story isn’t about the cord. It’s about allowing it to continue pulsing so that baby receives more of his or her own blood from the placenta. Leaving the cord boosts baby’s blood volume and has protective benefits for both full-term and premature babies.

In your baby’s cord blood are millions of specialized stem cells essential to his or her organ development. In preemies, these stem cells are even more concentrated. Because experts know baby’s organs continue to grow and mature after birth, losing these stem cells by clamping and cutting baby’s cord too early may increase baby’s risk for diseases later in life including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few.

For most moms and babies, there are no real risks in delaying clamping and cutting when both mom and baby are well at birth, research shows. Baby can still go skin-to-skin with you and begin breastfeeding and bonding even as the cord continues to transfer blood.

In 2014, in response to research, the World Health Organization recommended delayed cord clamping and cutting for all mothers and babies, calling it a “best practice” at birth.

Wait 5 Minutes before Clamping

Delaying clamping for just 5 minutes boosts red blood cells, iron and proteins needed to transport oxygen in red blood cells by as much as 60%. And baby’s iron levels remain boosted for as long as 6 months after birth.

This reduces your baby’s risk of not having enough iron (anemia) in the first few months of life. In contrast, babies whose cords were clamped and cut right after birth were twice as likely to be iron deficient at 3 and 6 months after birth. Anemia can cause lasting developmental delays in babies.

Request Delayed Cord Clamping

Surveys show a little more than half of pregnancy care providers now delay clamping for a few minutes, talk to your healthcare provider about delaying clamping and cutting your baby’s cord at birth. You may find, however, your nurses will be your greatest champions when it comes to delayed clamping and cutting as they’re the care experts observing and noting whether baby is receiving blood from the placenta at birth.

Mayri Sagady Leslie, EdD, MSN, CNM, is director of the Concentration in Nurse‐Midwifery for the Masters in Nursing Program at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Boosting Your Preemie Baby’s Blood Volume

For babies born premature, this is even more important. Delaying cord clamping boosts baby’s blood volume by 30% in babies born at term, and up to 50% more for preemies. Research shows that particularly for babies born premature, waiting to clamp baby’s cord:

  • improves baby’s blood pressure
  • boosts baby’s oxygen
  • reduces the risk or need for blood transfusions in the NICU
  • reduces the risk of developing one of the most common and serious intestinal diseases in premature babies, necrotizing enterocolitis
  • reduces babies risk for internal hemorrhage

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