We’ve all seen the movies. The mother makes the final push & the baby comes out. The OB immediately places two clamps on the umbilical cord and hands the scissors to the father. The father cuts the cord and the baby is held for about 5 seconds for mother to finally get a glimpse of her beautiful child before he is whisked away for a bath, foot prints, weight, measurements, etc. The mother may not even see or hear her child for what seems like an eternity to her.
This is how things are done, right? You have to clamp off the umbilical cord so the baby doesn’t bleed to death, right?
This may be how you were born and is still remains a very common practice. However, is this what is best for mother and baby? You have to clamp off the umbilical cord so the baby doesn’t bleed to death, right?
No. There are only a few times when should be done. For example, in the case that the baby is in distress and needs extra attention. For the vast majority of births today, however, waiting a few minutes to cut the cord actually significantly improves the health of the baby.
While in the womb, the baby receives all nourishment through the placenta. After the baby is born, the placenta is still providing nourishment to the baby. The umbilical cord actually continues to pulse in order to provide the baby with all the blood that is still left in the placenta. The placenta holds up to 1/3 of the baby’s blood.
Delaying cord clamping can be especially beneficial for the baby that may be having a difficult time learning to breathe on his own. Oxygen is still being provided to the baby through the placenta so this may give health providers a few more minutes to resuscitate a baby in distress.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting at least 1-3 minutes before cord clamping for babies not needing resuscitation. Most of the blood takes five-fifteen minutes to transfer from the placenta to the baby. Waiting until the cord stops pulsing is the sign to know when the cord should be cut. The umbilical cord is made up of a jelly like substance called Warton’s Jelly. This jelly begins to naturally clamp down onto the blood vessels once it is exposed to air. The pulsing of the cord is from the baby’s heart beat. Once the blood has been transferred to the baby and the Warton’s Jelly has closed off the vessels, the placental circulation is no longer needed and the pulsing stops.
When the baby is delivered, the umbilical cord looks like a thick, purple rope. As time goes by and the cord begins to naturally constrict, the color starts to fade. When the cord has stopped pulsing, it looks much thinner and white. Below is a picture is from Nurturing Hearts Birth Services. She was able to obtain photos of the umbilical cord over a period of fifteen minutes after the birth of the child.
Here is a great video (less than 5 mins) by Penny Simkin demonstrating the amount of blood the baby will get through delayed cord clamping.
Here is a TEDx Talk video (less than 19 mins) with Dr. Alan Greene speaking on the benefits of delaying cord clamping for at least 90 seconds.
Thankfully, delayed cord clamping is beginning to replace the old protocol. Some studies have reported a higher incidence of jaundice associated with delayed cord clamping, however, there is an easy and noninvasive treatment, phototherapy. This treatment may be as easy as sitting outside with the baby for a few minutes every day or may require the baby to lie under a phototherapy lamp at the hospital.