Less than a minute after a baby is born, most doctors perform a very routine procedure – the clamping and removal of the umbilical cord. Some studies have associated this early clamping with significant health benefits, such as improved circulation for the baby and a reduced risk of hemorrhaging in the mother.
But now, a new study published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that delaying clamping for at least one minute post-birth – which allows more time for blood to move from the placenta – may actually improve iron stores and hemoglobin levels in the newborn, the New York Times reported. The study also found that prolonging cord removal poses no extra risk to the mother.
Once an infant is born, the umbilical cord is clamped in two locations – near the baby’s navel and then farther down the cord. The doctor then cuts the cord between the two clamps.
There has been a long standing debate in the medical community about the proper timing for umbilical cord clamping, and this latest study adds to previous research suggesting that most doctors currently perform the procedure too early.
“I suspect we’ll have more and more delayed cord clamping,” Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, the chair of committee on obstetrics practice for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the New York Times.
The new study analyzed data from 15 randomized trials including 3,911 women and child pairs. Compared to babies who had early cord clamping, newborns who experienced later cord clamping had higher hemoglobin levels 24 to 48 hours after birth, and they were also less likely to be iron deficient three to six months postpartum. The delayed clamping did not show any increased risk for hemorrhaging or blood loss in the mother.
“It’s a persuasive finding,” said Ecker. “It’s tough not to think that delayed cord clamping, including better iron stores and more hemoglobin, is a good thing.”