Delayed cord clamping, or perhaps more appropriately termed ‘’optimal’’ cord clamping, (as the definition of delay is subjective) is the practice of waiting to clamp the umbilical cord until after the cord has stopped pulsating or after the placenta has been delivered. This is to allow for maximum transfer of blood, containing oxygen and vital nutrients, from the placenta to the baby. This can take from a few minutes to as long as 15 minutes.
In most Australian maternity hospitals traditional practice has been to clamp and cut the umbilical cord immediately after birth however more and more research, including the most recently released Cochrane systematic review suggests premature cord clamping is not only unnecessary but also potentially harmful.[hide_from visible_to='member']
Cutting the cord too early results in 80-100mls less blood being passed to baby. According to an opinion paper released by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), immediate cord clamping can result in lower iron stores in the baby for up to six months after birth. Iron deficiency in the first few months of life is associated with cognitive and behavioural delays, which may be irreversible.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends cord clamping one to three minutes after birth. Early cord clamping (less than one minute after birth) is not recommended unless the baby is not breathing and needs to be moved immediately for resuscitation.
An increasing number of research articles and opinion papers note a range of benefits associated with delayed cord clamping including:
- Increased blood volume
- Reduced need for blood transfusion
- Decreased frequency of iron deficiency anaemia
- Decreased incidence of intracranial haemorrhage in preterm babies
In addition, delayed cord clamping may be beneficial because the blood is enriched with antibodies and stem cells, which provide defence against infection, disease or tissue injury.
Although maternity hospitals are increasingly open to delaying cord clamping, if it poses no threat to mother or baby, it is still not standard practice. If you would like delay the clamping of your baby’s umbilical cord be sure to clearly state your wish to your doctor and the hospital staff well ahead of time. Even if you undergo a planned (or unplanned caesarean section) a delay in clamping can still be achieved in most cases.
You can find more information and research on the implications of immediate cord clamping and the benefits of delayed (or “optimal”) cord clamping here.