It turns out that not cutting the umbilical cord immediately after birth might be best for the baby. A new study suggests that waiting a few minutes to cut the umbilical cord can help newborns receive an influx of nutrients that can benefit their health even months later.
In the United States, the umbilical cord is usually clamped and cut within one minute of birth. In theory, this helps to diminish the chance of postpartum hemorrhaging and other complications. But a study of 3,911 mother and newborn pairs found that waiting to clamp the cord for one to three minutes after birth meant newborns received an influx of nutrient-rich blood.
In births where there was a one to three minute delay in clamping the umbilical cord, newborns had higher hemoglobin concentrations 24 to 48 hours after birth and had higher iron stores three to six months later. They also tended to have higher birth weights.
Babies who had their umbilical cord clamped within one minute of birth were twice as likely to have iron deficiencies when they were three and six months old.
In both cases, there was no statistical difference in the amount of maternal postpartum hemorrhaging. Babies who received the extra influx of blood through the delayed cord clamping had slightly higher rates of jaundice. Newborn jaundice is caused by a bilirubin, a byproduct of hemoglobin.
Dr. Joanne Stone, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said the findings were important, but she still hoped additional research would be done to see if the health effects lasted longer than a few months.
"I think the important thing is what [are] the results of the long- term studies. What is the increase in iron stores in babies down the road?" said Stone. "If [delayed cord clamping] is associated to larger birth weight, is it [also] going to mean better neurological development?"
Stone also said that delaying the cord clamping will only work for low-risk pregnancies. Complicated deliveries or those done via cesarean section would likely include early cord clamping to diminish potential risks to the mother and baby.
But for healthy low-risk pregnancies, Stone said she would consider waiting an extra minute or two to cut the cord.
"This is going to be something that patients are going to be asking about all the time," said Stone.