You may not give your umbilical cord much thought in the lead-up to giving birth. Or maybe you’ve given it a LOT of thought. You could be prepped to bank your cord blood and be vigorously paper-scissors-rocking with your partner to decide who gets to cut the cord, for all we know.
While it may be a weird, gross-looking thing (reportedly ‘spongey’ to the touch), your umbilical cord is also a beautiful piece of anatomy that serves as your baby’s lifeline up until they’re out of the womb. Pretty f*cking incredible actually. So how and when should you have it cut?
In this article, we’re going to explore why some people choose to delay cord clamping after birth, rather than snipping it off straight away. (We can’t help you decide who gets to do it though. Sorry.)
How the umbilical cord works
Your umbilical cord starts to develop early on in the first trimester of your pregnancy, around Week 5. It grows to between 22 and 24 inches long (55 to 60cm), and is like a thick, squidgy cable that connects your baby to your placenta.
So what’s the point of this thing? Despite what it may feel like, your baby isn’t using it to bungee jump around your womb. The umbilical cord is made up of two arteries and a vein, and it passes oxygen and nutrients from your body to your baby’s. In the later stages of pregnancy it also transports antibodies to protect their immune system.
When your sweet newborn takes their first breath of air (then probably proceeds to poop on you and scream bloody murder), the umbilical cord will pulse for a while with the last transfer of blood, but its job is essentially done.
Your doctors will put two clamps on the cord and cut in between them (which thankfully doesn’t hurt – you can’t feel it at all).
While doctors used to snip the cord straight away, recent research into leaving it attached for a bit longer has inspired many to more carefully consider when to cut the umbilical cord.
So just what is ‘delayed cord clamping’ all about? Glad you asked, mama.
How to cut your umbilical cord with delayed cord clamping
Why delay cord clamping?
The idea behind delayed cord clamping is that there’s still nutrient-rich blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after you’ve given birth. By holding off for a few minutes before clamping and cutting the umbilical cord, this beneficial blood has time to flow to the baby.
In fact, studies show that 80–100mL of blood transfers from the placenta to the newborn in the three minutes after birth. By cutting the cord straight away, this blood is essentially wasted. Every drop counts!
Benefits of delayed cord clamping
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) notes that delayed cord clamping is preferred – so it’s even got backing from the smart people.
Benefits for full-term babies include:
- Increased hemoglobin levels at birth.
- Improving iron stores in the first several months of life, decreasing the risk of anemia.
And in premature babies, the benefits are even greater:
- Improved transitional circulation.
- Better establishment of red blood cell volume.
- Decreased need for blood transfusion.
- Lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis and intraventricular hemorrhage (difficult to pronounce, yet common complications in preemies).
How long to delay cord clamping
As wild as it may sound, some women opt for a ‘lotus birth’, which is what it’s called when you let the umbilical cord fall off naturally (usually anywhere between three and 10 days). There hasn’t been extensive research done on this practice, so it’s not advised by the medical community in the US. It also calls for some hectic umbilical cord care, to avoid infection – and worse still – smell!
ACOG recommends a delay of 30–60 seconds before clamping the umbilical cord. Those precious seconds allow a lot of beneficial blood to transfer to your baby.
Delayed cord clamping risks
Delayed cord clamping is safe for you and your baby, whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a c-section. The main risk associated with it is a small increase in the incidence of jaundice due to the excess blood. However, medical practitioners can monitor and treat this if it does happen.
As with anything in birth, things may not go to plan. There are some situations in which delayed cord clamping simply isn’t possible. For example:
- If you’re losing too much blood.
- If your baby needs immediate medical care.
- If the umbilical cord is wrapped tightly around your baby’s neck (which is rare).
- If your placenta is abnormal.
It’s no big drama if your care team decides to cut your cord right away for medical reasons. Remember, doctors have been cutting the newborn umbilical cord that way for ages.
How to decide if delayed cord clamping is for you
In the heat of the moment, when you’ve just popped a baby out and are preoccupied with how f*cking tiny they are, you probably won’t be thinking about what to do with your umbilical cord. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan ahead for your labor and delivery.
Talk to your doctor about delayed cord clamping while you’re pregnant, and be sure to discuss risks and any concerns you have with them. You should include any preferences in your birth plan, and discuss it with your partner too.
Umbilical cords! Who knew there was so much to think about? If you’d like to hear more about what other moms chose to do or continue your research – jump onto Mumli.