Are We Cutting the Cord Too Soon?

by Catherine Clinton

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Image source: iStockPhotos

Are we depriving our newborns of vital nutrients by rushing the big "cut the cord" moment?

The diagnosis and treatment of iron deficiency and iron deficient anemia has become commonplace in pediatric offices across the country. 

Infants and young children are at particularly high risk for this problem due to their high iron requirements during rapid growth. Since iron is essential for proper neurodevelopment, iron deficiency is a serious concern in babies.  

While iron supplementation is one way to treat this deficiency, one easy way to help prevent it is by delaying umbilical clamping after birth.

In the U.S. it is common practice to clamp the umbilical cord within seconds of the birth of the baby but recent research out of Sweden shows the benefits of delayed umbilical cord clamping.  

This new research shows waiting for at least three minutes before clamping the umbilical cord in healthy newborns improves their iron levels at four months and decreases the occurrence of infant anemia.  Delayed cord clamping was not linked to infant jaundice or other adverse health effects.

Other studies have shown waiting three minutes before clamping the umbilical cord at birth can boost a newborn's blood volume by one third leading to higher blood perfusion, which has a multitude of benefits for both full term and premature infants. 

Infants rely on a burst of blood from the placenta to help expand their lungs and jumpstart vital functions as they begin life outside the womb.  The extra iron from the delayed clamping is stored as the baby uses it for development until around six to eight months when these stores run out and the infant can get their own iron intake from food.  

Delaying the clamping not only allows the placenta to continue to deliver a large dose of blood and iron, it also allows for the transfer of red blood cells, immune cells and stem cells. 

In the words of one author and pediatrician, "If you wait just an extra 90 seconds or so, you get all the good stuff in your baby.”

Immediate cord clamping has become the standard because of the belief that it will reduce the mother's risk of excess bleeding and the baby's risk of jaundice or polythycemia.  However, with mounting evidence that the risk of these conditions is very low or the health impact over the long term is benign, minds are changing.  

With such clear evidence supporting delayed umbilical clamping organizations like the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics advise against early clamping.  Delaying clamping by three minutes after birth is a valuable tool in non-emergent births. 

As with any health condition it is important to research and talk with your midwife or obstetrician about your options. The option of delayed cord clamping could have a powerful impact on the health of your little one and is an important discussion to have with your healthcare provider.  

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