Newborn babies are less likely to develop an iron deficiency if the umbilical cord is kept in place for three minutes at birth, Swedish scientists claimed.

Researchers from Umea University in Sweden tested 400 babies -- some who had their umbilical cords clamped after at least three minutes and others who had them clamped less than 10 seconds after delivery.

The babies whose umbilical clamping was delayed benefited from higher iron levels at four months.

For every 20 babies whose cords are clamped three minutes or more after birth, one case of iron deficiency would be prevented. There also were fewer cases of neonatal anemia in those with delayed clamping.

There were no adverse health effects from delayed clamping, according to the findings, published in the British Medical Journal.

Ola Andersson, neonatology consultant at the Hospital of Halland, in Halmstad, southern Sweden, said that delayed cord clamping "should be considered as standard care for full-term deliveries after uncomplicated pregnancies."

In Western culture, the umbilical cord is usually clamped between 30 seconds and a minute after birth.

Dr. Patrick van Rheenen, consultant pediatrician at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, said that enough evidence now exists to encourage delayed cord clamping.

He said, "The balance of maternal risks and infant benefits of delayed cord clamping now clearly favors the child. How much more evidence is needed to convince obstetricians and midwives that it is worthwhile to wait for three minutes to allow for placental transfusion, even in developed countries?"