Cutting your baby’s umbilical cord after delivery has long been considered a ceremonious moment that officially separates the baby from uterine life. Rather than cutting the cord the moment baby is delivered, many expectant parents are following the practice of delayed cord clamping.
Delayed cord clamping is not a new medical discovery; it’s been practiced in midwifery for decades, however, expectant parents are becoming more aware of the practice as health organizations have put out new research and recommendations supporting delayed clamping.
The practice, supported by the World Health Organization, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and many OBGYNs, midwives and pediatricians, allows the baby to get extra blood and nutrients after delivery by leaving the umbilical cord attached to the newborn for a few minutes.
“After the baby is delivered, the placenta is still inside and will birth itself, but while the placenta is still inside it’s giving the baby vital blood and oxygen,” explains Emma Whitlock, doula and owner of The Womb Within Birth Services. “So instead of immediately cutting the cord when the baby comes out and separating the baby from the placenta right away, you can leave the cord attached and allow the rest of the blood that’s in the placenta to transfer to the baby.”
Through delayed cord clamping, the baby can receive up to 30 percent more blood from the placenta. “The blood that circulates from the placenta to the baby is the baby’s blood,” explains Rachel Kay, certified nurse midwife and professor at Case Western Reserve University. “When you cut the cord right away, you’re cutting off a certain amount of what should be in the newborn’s circulation.”
Benefits of Blood
Leaving the cord attached and allowing the baby to receive all of its blood provides immediate and long-term health benefits to the newborn.
“We know that it helps the transition to extrauterine life,” adds Amy Labuda, a certified nurse midwife with OBGYN Associates of Southwest General Medical Group. “It increases birth weight, it increases the baby’s blood volume and hemoglobin concentration and it increases the iron stores for up to six months of age.”
According to a 2017 recommendation by the World Health Organization, all babies, unless they need resuscitation or immediate medical attention, should stay attached to the umbilical cord for at least one minute. Some medical professionals will wait 3-5 minutes or until the umbilical cord stops pulsing.
“There’s a campaign called Wait for White,” Whitlock explains. “When the blood is done being transferred from the placenta to the baby, the cord deflates and turns white and you can’t see any blood in it anymore — ideally that would be the best time to wait and cut the cord.”
Health organizations note that delayed cord clamping does slightly increase the risk of elevated bilirubin levels causing jaundice or a yellowish skin tone in newborns, which is treated with ultraviolet lights.
Delayed cord clamping also might interfere with plans to donate or bank your baby’s cord blood. Health care providers may or may not be able to collect and save the required amount of cord blood if delayed cord clamping is performed.
Can it be in Your Birth Plan?
Delayed cord clamping can be performed in most birth scenarios including vaginal and C-section deliveries. If delayed cord clamping is something you want done at the time of delivery, it’s important to discuss it with your provider ahead of time and write it in your birth plan.
“The room should have a copy and the doctor should have a copy so everyone is aware that you want to do it,” Whitlock says. “If there’s a doula who will be present, then the doula should know so she can voice the mother’s wishes, as well as the partner of the mother and whoever is part of her birth team, such as the midwife and OB.”