Following birth, an infant is still attached to the mother through the umbilical cord, part of the placenta. The baby is then separated from the placenta by clamping and cutting the umbilical cord.
By delaying the clamping of an umbilical cord, blood will continue to flow between the infant and the placenta increasing the baby's volume of blood by up to a third. This may improve the infants iron levels for up to six months following birth which is vital for healthy brain development.
How long should you wait to clamp the cord?
The optimal time believed to clamp the umbilical cord is one to three minutes following birth, however, a majority of midwives will wait until the cord stops pulsating and it turns white in colour.
Immediate cord clamping isn't recommended unless the infant is asphyxiated, in need of urgent care or immediate resuscitation.
What are the benefits of delayed cord clamping?
As mentioned above, benefits include a 30% increase in neonatal blood volume, a decreased risk of iron deficiency anaemia and the extra blood is believed to help baby cope better with the transition from life in the womb to the outside world.
Are there any risks when delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord?
There are some concerns, however - significant research does not support the risk of these conditions on babies receiving delayed cord clamping.
Hyperbilirubinemia is the most common concern and is caused by the build-up of red blood cells. After birth, it can cause a yellowish tint to the eyes and skin known as jaundice. In most cases, it goes away on its own but some infants require phototherapy to reduce it.
What is the World Health Organisations (WHO) stance on delayed cord clamping?
The World Health Organisation now recommends the optimal timing of one to three minutes before clamping the cord for the prevention of iron deficiency in infants.
According to the WHO:
- Delayed umbilical cord clamping is recommended for improved maternal and infant health and nutrition outcomes.
- For full-term or preterm babies who do not require positive-pressure ventilation, the cord should not be clamped earlier than one minute after birth.
- In relation to the prevention and treatment of postpartum haemorrhage, late cord clamping is recommended for all births while initiating simultaneous essential neonatal care.
- The evidence base for recommendations on the optimal timing of umbilical cord clamping for the prevention of postpartum haemorrhage includes both vaginal and caesarean births.
Can I request delayed cord clamping?
Delayed cord clamping is standard practice in most maternity hospitals in Ireland but it is recommended you discuss cord clamping options with your care team at your antenatal appointments.