There's a Growing Debate About When to Cut Umbilical Cords: Here’s Everything to Know

mom with her newborn baby in hospital during delayed umbilical cord clamping

Clearly, there’s a lot that Hollywood has gotten wrong about going into labor (sorry, Brooklyn Decker, but sneezing out a baby is not a real thing). Take, for example, the snipping of the umbilical cord. While most movies would lead you to believe that it’s done immediately, many experts actually recommend waiting a few minutes after birth in what’s referred to as delayed cord clamping (DCC). Here’s what you need to know about the practice, including the potential benefits and risks.

When does delayed cord clamping occur? Well, that depends on who you ask. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that cord cutting be delayed until one to three minutes after birth, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends at least 30 to 60 seconds. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives in the UK argue that “as transfusion is known to continue during the first 3 to 5 minutes of life, it is suggested that this process is allowed to complete without being interrupted.” And others, like the International Childbirth Education Association, define DCC as “a practice by which the umbilical cord is not clamped or cut until after it stops pulsating.” So yeah, it varies a lot.

And what are the benefits of DCC? Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, says that waiting to cut the umbilical cord for one to two minutes after the baby is born means that the baby continues to receive blood from the placenta, which has been shown to have a number of health benefits. “During this delay, there is an additional 20 to 40 milliliters of blood the baby receives with an extra 30 to 35 milligrams of iron. The end result is the baby will have a higher hemoglobin level, which decreases the chance of anemia through the first three months, and higher iron stores through the first six months of life.” DCC also offers better outcomes for preterm babies. “Preemies who have delayed cord clamping tend to have better blood pressure in the days immediately after birth, need fewer drugs to support blood pressure, need fewer blood transfusions, have less bleeding into the brain and have a lower risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, a life-threatening bowel injury,” neonatologist Dr. Heike Rabe told NPR.

And what about the risks? “The main health risk associated with one to two minute delayed cord clamping is an increased risk of jaundice, which is an overproduction of bilirubin. High bilirubin production can lead to the baby needing phototherapy,” says Ross. But the potential benefits outweigh this risk, she adds.

Bottom line: While different organizations may disagree on the exact amount of time to wait before clamping the cord, they all acknowledge the merits of doing it. But know that not all hospitals will automatically offer DCC, so (as with any birth plan decision) you should talk to your practitioner and decide the best course of action together. And whatever you do, a lotus birth (aka leaving the cord attached until it falls off naturally) is definitely not recommended.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...