For many decades, in a variety of birth settings, immediate umbilical cord clamping straight after the baby was born became part of normal birth practice- particularly in hospital settings.
Although, it is interesting to see that in the past thought was given to leaving the umbilical cord intact, as it was believed to be beneficial to the baby. In 1801, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, who was a doctor, said:
“Very injurious to the child is the tying of the navel string too soon. It should be left till all pulsation in the cord ceases. Otherwise the child is much weaker than it ought to be, a portion of the blood being left in the placenta, which ought to have been in the child.”
Extensive research in recent years has now revealed that the practice of immediate clamping of the umbilical cord can be detrimental to your baby. Delayed cord clamping (DCC) or optimal cord clamping (OCC) for all babies at birth, unless in need of intensive resuscitation, is now supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, as well as the World Health Organisation and National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK.
The reason that immediate clamping of the umbilical cord should not take place is because up to one third of your baby’s circulating blood volume is still contained within the placenta and umbilical cord at birth.
The transfer of this blood from you to your baby, which also contains nutrients and stem cells, needs at least a few minutes to be complete, but this timing can vary individually. If your baby's cord is clamped immediately, your baby can start their newborn life with up to 300mls less of the blood they were intended to have
The World Health Organisation defines the optimal time to clamp your baby’s cord as when it has stopped pulsating, which can be approximately 3 minutes or often much longer after the birth, but births and umbilical cords are very individual to each woman and baby. Some cords may pulsate (the pulsation assists the transfer of your baby’s blood back into their body) for as long as 30 minutes or more, where others may stop pulsating at 5 minutes or less after the baby is born.
You can request that the umbilical cord is left unclamped until it has stopped pulsating or until you have delivered your placenta after birth. If your baby is delivered via forceps or caesarean section time may be more limited due to other factors involved in the birth, but ask the doctor to delay clamping for as long as possible.
There are very few circumstances at birth where delayed cord clamping (DCC) cannot be implemented, however, the length of time may be subject to time limits due to the circumstances and the environment you birth in. If you want your baby to have DCC make sure you have it in your birth plan, or that the midwife caring for you in labour is aware of your wishes.
Benefits of delayed cord clamping:
- Your baby’s iron stores will be improved at 4-6 months of age and this protects your baby against becoming anaemic.
- If your baby does not breathe straight away after the birth, being attached by the unclamped umbilical cord will continue to supply oxygen-rich blood and nutrients before your baby takes their first breath. Remember that very few babies need any form of resuscitation at birth, with around 95% of babies breathing spontaneously once they are born.
- If your baby does need any help to breathe after birth, it is possible for your midwife or doctor to perform the necessary procedures whilst your baby is still attached by their umbilical cord.
- Premature babies may benefit even more than full term babies, as receiving a higher blood volume can protect their organs and brains.
- Recent research suggests that the immediate clamping of the umbilical cord can affect long-term learning and development in children.
Some parents may want a company to collect their baby’s cord blood at birth, for the future or in rare cases to help a sibling. Parents should be aware that the methods and amounts that the companies collect vary and that some companies are more supportive of delayed and optimal cord clamping than others. For more information please follow this link: https://www.bloodtobaby.com/umbilical-cord-blood-banking