Cord Clamping Newborn Babies at Birth – Benefits and Risks

Among moms-to-be and the medical professionals who help to deliver babies, cord clamping is a hot topic. The issue  is how soon after delivery to clamp the umbilical cord that connects the baby to the placenta in his mother’s womb. In the past, most doctors had clamped the cord almost immediately. But a new body of research is beginning to suggest that waiting an extra minute or two before clamping the cord may provide important health benefits for the baby.

When a baby is born, the placenta and umbilical cord pump blood toward the baby. After a few moments, the pumping ceases. Up until somewhat recently, doctors would clamp the cord immediately (within the first 15 seconds or so of birth) with the reasoning that the rush of red blood cells in the cord blood was a contributing factor to jaundice.

However, many in the medical community are now calling for a longer waiting period (at least one minute, up to three minutes or when the cord stops pulsing) so that the baby receives the full volume of blood, as well as the health benefits from the cord blood, before the umbilical cord is clamped.

Researchers have cited benefits to delaying cord clamping that include improved iron stores and fewer blood transfusions needed. One new study suggests that delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord may decrease the occurrence of anemia in full-term infants. An earlier study found that delayed cord clamping reduced the risk of intraventricular hemorrhage and late-onset sepsis (infection) in preterm infants.

However, still another study found no difference in outcomes between preterm infants with immediate clamping and those with delayed clamping. Additionally, the possible disadvantages to delaying the cord clamping include a condition known as polycythemia, a large increase in red blood cell volume, and risks to the mother or baby if they need immediate medical help and the help is delayed. Because of the lingering uncertainty about the risks, some doctors remain skeptical about delaying cord clamping.

Today, many doctors wait a minute or so before clamping the cord, and some wait longer if the mother has requested to put the newborn on her chest when he is first born. Of course, these decisions will depend entirely on the condition of the mother and the baby during and after delivery (if the mother or the baby needs immediate medical attention, for example).

If you feel strongly about delaying the clamping of your baby’s umbilical cord, this is a conversation that you need to have with your doctor before your delivery. It’s important to know if your doctor has a strong position on the issue, and if yours if different from hers, whether it will be a deal-breaker in your doctor/patient relationship.

Many moms-to-be include special requests such as a request for delayed cord clamping in their birth plan so that everyone who is in attendance of the birth knows the mother’s preference. However, keep in mind that your birth plan is just that – a plan – and circumstances beyond your control may cause your doctor to deviate from the plan. If your birthing process doesn’t go exactly as planned, don’t dwell on it – just focus on enjoying the happy time with your new baby.

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