What is delayed cord clamping?
Delayed cord clamping is a birth practice where the umbilical cord is not clamped or cut until after pulsations have ceased, or until after the placenta is delivered. A growing number of parents are choosing delayed cord clamping for their baby.
The timing of clamping the umbilical cord, and practices have a sizeable impact on the outcomes or mother and baby. Research has shown that when we delay cord clamping the neonate will receive up to 30% more of the fetal-placental blood volume than it would have with immediate cord clamping.
When your baby is born, the cord and placenta system will contain about one third of your baby’s blood, whilst the remaining two thirds is in the baby.
The benefits of delayed cord clamping for the baby include a normal, healthy blood volume for the transition to life outside the womb; and a full count of red blood cells, stem cells and immune cells. For the mother, delayed clamping keeps the mother-baby unit intact and can prevent complications with delivering the placenta.
Before birth, the baby and placenta share a circulating blood supply that is separate to the mother’s. Inside the uterus, the placenta and umbilical cord provides the baby with oxygen, nutrients and clears waste. During fetal life, the baby’s organs only need a small flow of blood while the placenta performs the role of lungs, kidneys, gut and liver for the baby. This is why a significant portion of the baby’s total blood volume is in the placenta at any given time. The blood circulating the placenta and cord is not ‘extra’ blood or waste – it belongs to the baby.
Immediately after birth, the cord pulsates as the placenta continues to provide essential oxygen and nutrients, and begins to deliver blood back to the baby. This transfer of blood is called placental transfusionand it is a vital part of the birth process.
Placental transfusion is the system that provides the baby with red blood cells, stem cells, immune cells and blood volume. Delayed cord clamping allows time for the placental transfusion, ensuring safe oxygen levels and blood volume in the baby.
The World Health Organisation states the “optimal time to clamp the umbilical cord for all infants regardless of gestational age or fetal weight is when the circulation in the cord has ceased, and the cord is flat and pulseless (approximately 3 minutes or more after birth).”
RISKS OF IMMEDIATE CORD CLAMPING
For many decades, various studies have shown that immediate or early cord clamping disrupts normal physiology, anatomy and the birth process – it severs the baby from the still-functioning placenta and halts the circulation of blood.
Large studies have shown that immediate cord clamping can result in lower iron stores in the baby for up to 6 months after birth. While not all the implications of a reduced iron status are understood, iron deficiency in the first few months of life is associated with neurodevelopmental delay, which may be irreversible.
Early cord clamping can cause complications for the mother, too. There is some evidence that early clamping increases the risk of post-partum hemorrhage and retained placenta by engorging the placenta with the baby’s blood. This makes it harder for the uterus to contract and expel the placenta.
Risk of delayed cord clamping
Small studies have shown that delaying cord clamping increases the risk of jaundice. A study found that 3% of babies who experienced early cord clamping, compared to 5% of babies who experienced delayed cord clamping required treatment for jaundice.
Delayed cord clamping leaves the cord alone after birth and avoids disrupting the normal birth process. While the cord is pulsating, placental transfusion is supplying the baby with oxygen, nutrients and an increased blood volume to support the transition to life outside the womb.
Delayed cord clamping confers many benefits to the newborn baby including higher number of red blood cells, stem cells and immune cells at birth. In premature or compromised babies, delayed cord clamping may provide essential life support, restore blood volume and protect against organ damage, brain injury and death.