Cutting the Cord — Literally

You haven’t thought a lot about the umbilical cord before, but now that you’re having a baby soon, every aspect of labor and delivery is interesting — including cutting the cord. 

The umbilical cord connects your placenta to your baby’s soon-to-be belly button. Your baby receives blood and important nutrients through this vital tube-like structure, which is clamped and snipped soon after birth. Learn what to expect from cutting the cord and why experts now recommend at least a minute delay before clamping.

What’s Involved in Cutting the Cord? 

When your baby is delivered, your medical team will probably place your baby on your chest while the umbilical cord is still attached to your placenta. After at least a minute, they will place a clamp on the cord to stop the blood flow between you and your baby, and then, your partner or your doctor will use scissors to cut the cord. The rest of the cord will then be delivered, along with the placenta. 

Why Should Cord Cutting Be Delayed?

Starting in the 1950s, doctors would cut the cord within seconds after birth. However, in the early 2000s, researchers began learning that delayed cord-cutting benefits babies. In preterm infants, positive effects of delayed cord-cutting may include better blood circulation, more red blood cell volume and less need for blood transfusions. The incidence of brain hemorrhage and a common prenatal disease called necrotizing enterocolitis also may be reduced in these preterm babies. 

Full-term infants can benefit as well from delayed cord cutting, especially with improved hemoglobin and iron levels. Even at 6 months old, studies show that when cord-cutting is delayed, these babies often have better iron levels (important because iron deficiency is linked to cognitive and physical delays). 

In the early 2000s, researchers began learning that delayed cord-cutting benefits babies.

What Are the Risks of Delaying Cord Cutting?

Cutting the Cord small

For most babies, delayed cord cutting has no downside, only clear benefits. For a small percentage of babies, one study showed high red blood cell count (a condition known as polycythemia or hyperviscosity).  Polycythemia doesn’t normally have any symptoms, but babies with this condition may have to stay in the hospital a bit longer while waiting for levels to become normal.

Another study showed that bilirubin built up in babies whose cord cutting was delayed, causing newborn jaundice. This is another condition that doesn’t normally cause symptoms, but may require a longer hospital stay or light therapy treatment.

Are There Reason to Cut the Cord More Quickly?

If the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, or if there is an emergency with the mother or the baby, the cord will be clamped immediately. 

Additionally, if you want to bank umbilical cord blood, delayed cord cutting will mean that there will be less blood available to bank. According to organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the benefits of delayed cord cutting outweigh the benefits of banking cord blood. If banking cord blood is important to you, you can discuss this issue with your doctor. 

What if My Partner is Too Nervous to Cut the Cord?

Often, your partner will choose to cut the cord. However, if it makes your partner uncomfortable, don’t worry about it! Your doctor or your medical team will do it. No matter what, enjoy these beautiful first moments with your new baby!

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