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  • Delayed Cord Clamping Is Highly Recommended. But How Long Do Doctors Wait Before Cutting?

    Delayed cord clamping has now become an essential practice in newborn care.
    by Rachel Perez .
Delayed Cord Clamping Is Highly Recommended. But How Long Do Doctors Wait Before Cutting?
PHOTO BY Pixabay
  • Medical experts agree on the life-saving effect of delayed cord clamping on babies, so much so that it has become part of the essential newborn care practices of doctors and hospitals around the globe. But is there an optimum waiting time before a doctor cuts an infant's umbilical cord?

    Well, according to a new study, waiting a minimum of five minutes will do. The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, says this time delay may help improve a child's early brain development.

    The study involved 73 healthy infants whom the researchers from the University of Rhode Island (URI) followed since their birth in October 2012. At four months, the babies had an MRI during their naps and bedtimes. The infants also had their blood collected and tested for iron levels, including ferritin, a blood cell protein containing iron that aids in the formation of myelin.

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    Myelin is a fatty substance in the brain that wraps around nerve cells. "It's an insulator and very important in the transfer of messages across the nerve cells in the brain. It's assumed that the better the myelination, the more efficient the brain processing is," explains certified nurse-midwife and URI professor of nursing Debra A. Erickson-Owens in a press release.

    "Our study shows that waiting five minutes or more before clamping the umbilical cord, while infants are held skin-to-skin with the mother, leads to more myelin development," Erickson-Owens shared. "This is a low-tech, low-cost technique that we believe can mitigate iron deficiency and vulnerability to anemia.


    Thanks to a five-minute delay on cord clamping, the regions of the brain affected by increased myelination are those associated with motor, sensory processing and function, and visual development, according to Erickson-Owens who also helped write the American College of Nurse-Midwives statement on delayed cord clamping. "These are all important for early-phase development," she stressed.

    Erickson-Owens and her colleague Judith S. Mercer, also a midwife and URI nursing professor emeritus, also discovered similar effects on preemies. Infants born prematurely showed better motor development compared to preterm babies whose cords were clamped immediately.

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    Delayed cord clamping allows a newborn to receive more blood from the placenta and the umbilical cord, which has been proven to contain essential nutrients like iron and antibodies. It has also been the source of stem cells used in cord blood banking, a health investment many moms today are making.

    Waiting five minutes may result in a return of up to 50% of the baby’s iron-rich blood cells, said Erickson-Owens. “So when the brain needs red blood cells (and iron) to make myelin, the robustness of the iron stores make a big difference," she explained.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) already recommends doctors to wait before cutting the umbilical cord. The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologist (ACOG) recommends waiting 30 to 60 seconds before cutting the infant's umbilical cord. The Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) suggests delaying cord clamping for one to three minutes.

    There are birth practitioners who let the umbilical cord stay connected to the newborn 15 minutes longer or until the cord detaches itself naturally (the practice is called lotus birth). Whether it's something you are interested in doing, make sure to discuss your birth plan with your doctor. You may not be comfortable doing a semi- or full lotus birth. But you can ask for those five precious minutes while doing skin-to-skin contact and maybe even breastfeed your little one before cutting his cord.

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