For years, one of the first things to happen right after an infant’s birth was the clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord. But at the beginning of 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) became the first medical organization to recommend delaying the precious act. Why? Because an additional 30 – 60 seconds longer can allow more blood (iron) to get to the newborn, critical for brain development. It’s an excellent thing.
Benefits of Delayed Cord Clamping
“Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the ACOG agree that delayed umbilical cord clamping in babies is beneficial,” says Dontal Johnson, M.D., C.P.T., assistant professor of pediatrics at Meharry Medical College. Johnson says the benefits include increasing the hemoglobin levels at birth (the molecule that helps babies transport oxygen around their body) and improvement of iron stores during the first several months of life, which is important to hemoglobin.
Johnson says if an infant doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, his red blood cells can shrink and lead to anemia. Delayed cord clamping is beneficial for premature infants, too.
“In preterm babies, delayed umbilical cord clamping is associated with improved transitional circulation, better establishment of red blood cell volume, decreased need for blood transfusions, decreased incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and decreased incidence of intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH),” says Johnson. “Preterm babies are at a higher risk of both NEC and IVH. As a pediatrician, both of these conditions cause your ‘Spidey senses’ to go a little wild, so procedures that decrease them from happening are very much welcome.”
How Long Can You Delay It?
Baby’s here, and your doctor’s going to delay clamping the cord. But for how long? “Medical governing bodies differ on the specific length of time before clamping the umbilical cord,” says Johnson. “Waiting 30 – 60 seconds is generally recommended by the World Health Organization, Neonatal Resuscitation Program, AAP and ACOG.” Stay calm if you learn the delay is only a few seconds, because every second counts.
When You Can’t Delay
Your pregnancy went smoothly, but anything can change during delivery. When a baby is born, the doctor immediately assesses him. If you’ve decided to delay cord clamping, he will take that into consideration as he checks Baby.
“Many factors go into assessing a newly delivered baby,” says Johnson. “Two things stand out that may make your doctor think twice about performing delayed cord clamping. 1.) A baby who has decreased tone (aka limp baby). 2.) A baby who's in respiratory distress (not crying, not showing signs of breathing or blue baby). These conditions usually prompt immediate neonatal resuscitation evaluation.”
That’s when the risks outweigh delayed cord clamping, and the doctor will overule your decision for Baby’s best outcome. If you’re expecting a baby and interested in delayed cord clamping, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.
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