When to Cut the Umbilical Cord?

This was not something I thought about much before pregnancy, but lately “timing of cord-clamping” has surged in my lexicon. I have read that clamping the baby’s umbilical cord immediately after birth—as is common practice—is not always best for baby’s blood, oxygen, and iron stores. Many midwives now suggest delaying cord-cutting at least until the cord stops pulsing, up to 20 minutes after birth.

And now, “delayed cord-clamping” has gone mainstream, with a study published this week in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and written about in The New York Times. The study found that:

“Newborns with later clamping had higher hemoglobin levels 24 to 48 hours postpartum and were less likely to be iron-deficient three to six months after birth, compared with term babies who had early cord clamping, the analysis found. Birth weight also was significantly higher on average in the late clamping group, in part because babies received more blood from their mothers.

“Delayed clamping did not increase the risk of severe postpartum hemorrhage, blood loss or reduced hemoglobin levels in mothers, the analysis found.”

That’s persuasive stuff. Even the World Health Organization recommends delaying clamping for one to three minutes for those same reasons.

Of course this is far from the “lotus birth” trend—in which a mom births her placenta and baby stays attached to it without cord clamping at all, until the cord naturally separates from its life-sustaining organ, often up to a week later. (You can even buy or make a bag for the placenta to live in while this happens.) Advocates of lotus births say that it’s much healthier for the baby to get every last bit of placental contact. Some say “ew,” and “that can cause infection,” some say “radically healthy.”

But this, though related, in another matter entirely. Delaying for up to three minues does not a lotus birth make. Which is good because it means it’s something you will likely see in hospitals in the near future. There are certain instances in which delayed cord-clamping (can you say that six times fast?) is not recommended, such as in C-sections (they simply haven’t been studied for this) or when the baby has breathed in meconium (their own poo) during birth.

Read, ask your doc (bring a print-out of that NYT article), and see if you and your baby are good candidates for delayed cord-clamping. If all is clear and your doc is cool, consider popping it in that birth plan. Seems like a lot of benefit for not much risk and effort.