The following is not intended for medical advice and is presented for educational purposes only. Always consult with your own healthcare provider for your pregnancy care.
Before getting pregnant, you probably had no idea there was so much to decide about giving birth. For instance, whether to opt for delayed cord clamping is one of the many choices you’ll make for your baby’s first few hours of life.
Luckily, this is a fairly straightforward decision for many parents-to-be, since many health organizations—from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)—recommend delayed cord clamping. Keeping your infant attached to the placenta for even 25 seconds more can have been health benefits, such as increased levels of red blood cells and improved circulation, for your baby.
Here’s what you should know about delayed cord clamping, and why doctors now recommend it.
What is Delayed Cord Clamping?
First things first, let’s talk about your baby’s cord. The umbilical cord is what connects the fetus to the placenta to deliver blood and nutrients. Within the cord are two arteries and a vein, which are still flowing with blood immediately after delivery.
In the past, the cord has been clamped (to stop blood flow) and cut very quickly after birth, in order to physically separate the infant from the mother. However, research now shows that keeping the cord connected and unclamped for a longer time allows more blood to flow to the infant, which can have some positive health benefits. Babies who have delayed cord clamping have higher blood volume, oxygen levels, and show increased brain development in the early months.
“Babies who have delayed cord clamping have higher blood volume, oxygen levels, and show increased brain development in the early months.”
The delay doesn’t have to be very long. The WHO recommends leaving the cord intact for at least 1 minute, while the ACOG recommends clamping for at least 30-60 seconds in full-term babies and preterm babies without any complications. In most cases, the umbilical cord is long enough that you’ll still be able to put your hands on your baby or even allow your infant to rest on your belly. And while there is not an official recommendation on delayed cord clamping for C-section parents just yet, research has suggested that it can be done safely, so definitely talk to your doctor if you know a C-section birth is in your future.
There is one small downside to be aware of when choosing to delay—delayed cord clamping may increase risk for jaundice in some babies. However, since jaundice is temporary and easily treated, that risk pales in comparison to the benefits.
Deciding if Delayed Cord Clamping is Right for You
In most cases, doctors recommend delayed cord clamping, since it’s been shown to benefit babies. However, the decision is ultimately up to you, and you should feel free to talk with your doctor about what’s best.
Even if you deliver prematurely, most health organizations still recommend delayed cord clamping. However, if there is an emergency and your baby needs immediate medical attention, your doctor will likely clamp the cord immediately so that the neonatologists can work on your baby as soon as possible. If you are choosing delayed cord clamping, ask your doctor what circumstances would lead to the cord being clamped and cut immediately after birth.
If you opt to delay cord clamping, you will not be able to bank your infant’s cord blood, since the blood will be pumped into your baby, rather than left in the cord. Although banked cord blood can help family members or strangers, it cannot help the person whose cord it was collected from, so cord blood donation will not affect your child’s future health.
The ACOG recommends that parents choose delayed cord clamping unless they are banking cord blood for a specific directed donation to a known individual. In short, the organization says that the benefit that your baby will get from the extra blood they obtain at birth outweighs the possible benefit of banked cord blood for another individual in the future.
“Even if you deliver prematurely, most health organizations still recommend delayed cord clamping.”
How to Talk to Your Doctor About Delayed Cord Clamping
In most cases, the conversation with your doctor about delayed cord clamping will be straightforward. However, if you have any questions or concerns—for example, if you’re considering cord blood banking or donation or at risk for a premature birth—it’s important that your doctor thoroughly answers any questions you have.
To make sure you get the answers you’re looking for, write down your questions before your appointment. You might also choose to take your partner or another trusted individual with you to the appointment where you discuss cord clamping. That person can help listen to the doctor’s response and retain the information that the doctor shares. If you feel that your doctor is not being supportive or forthcoming, seek a second opinion, or ask to speak with another medical professional in the practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the risks of delayed cord clamping?
Delayed cord clamping is associated with a small increased risk of jaundice. However, that’s a condition that is easy to treat, so most doctors say that the benefits of cord clamping are worth that risk.
How long should you wait to clamp the cord?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends delayed cord clamping for at least 30-60 seconds after birth.