The Benefits and Risks of Delayed Cord Clamping
What is Delayed Cord Clamping?
Learning about birth before you hit that milestone can help clear up some of the uncertainty, inform the decisions you make, and empower you to ask for certain options. Taking a birth class is very helpful. Some will advise you to do so with your healthcare provider so that you know what options you have. Others will say to take a comprehensive class from an independent third party. But regardless of what you chose, there are certain decisions you as new parents will be making together. One of those decisions is whether to pursue delayed cord clamping. This is also known as delayed umbilical cord clamping.
What Does Delayed Cord Clamping Mean?
In many modern births, the umbilical cord is clamped and then cut pretty soon after the baby is born. The physician may clamp and cut the cord, or they may offer this to your partner. For most babies who are born healthy there is little to no implication of this timely cutting of the cord. However, there are studies being conducted that show there are benefits to waiting to cut the cord uniting mother and baby. In fact, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology now endorses delayed cord clamping.
How Delayed is Delayed?
The word itself is a bit misleading here. Delayed in terms of clamping and cutting the umbilical cord means waiting anywhere from 30 seconds to ten minutes after birth. Some hospitals set a standard for delayed cord clamping around one minute. However these hospitals may also listen to a mother’s wishes or preferences and delay a little bit longer.
What are the Benefits of Waiting?
Thirty seconds to ten minutes might not seem like that much time, especially to someone who might have had hours of labor. But there are benefits to waiting, even if it’s just a short amount of time. The benefits listed here have been studied and are substantiated by various organizations, but there is still research being conducted and we still have more to learn here!
Boosting Baby’s Blood Supply
This is a big one. Babies have a hard time making their own red blood cells. Because of this, doctors often monitor infants and test for anemia after birth. By delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord, the mother’s body transfers more blood to the infant. Mom's blood contains everything the baby needs, including red blood cells. Studies show that one minute is all it takes to give the baby what he or she needs.
One of our baby’s first experiences is a pretty traumatic one. Imagine only knowing comfort, warmth, and satisfaction for about nine months, and then pretty soon all of that changes. Now for the first time, you are breathing on your own. In just a few minutes, you will be totally cut off from your mother on whom you have been totally dependent. By protecting the connection of the baby to the mother, it provides the infant with oxygen from the mother as their lungs start to work on their own. This is especially helpful in premature infants where they might otherwise experience difficulty breathing on their own.
Are There Downsides to Delayed Cord Clamping?
Just like our babies, each birth is a unique experience. Doctors, midwives, and healthcare professionals will make recommendations and decisions based on your unique experience and any extenuating circumstances.
For most mothers and infants delayed cord clamping has one main potential side effect, jaundice. Let’s back up a minute and look at mom’s biology. Our bodies create red blood cells which will then break down over time. When they break down, a substance called bilirubin is created. As adults, our livers can handle and process this bilirubin, but it can be a bit much for an infant to handle. Some studies show that when an umbilical cord is not clamped soon after birth, too much bilirubin can pass to the infant and cause jaundice.
Cord Blood Donation and Banking
Yet another option at the time of birth, is to donate the blood products in the umbilical cord. There are a number of different ways in which umbilical cord blood can make an impact. Because of this, many chose to either donate their cord blood, or to bank it in case their family might need it at a later point in time. With delayed cord clamping more of the blood in the umbilical cord is allowed to pass to the infant, which leaves less for donation or banking.
If you are wondering why someone might donate their cord blood, there are over 80 diseases and conditions that it can be used to treat. One major treatment is to use it as an alternative to blood marrow transplants. Minority populations are in special need of cord blood donations as the pool of donors is much smaller.