Optimal Cord Clamping: The Difference 90 Seconds Can Make
There are endless decisions to make when preparing for a birth, and it seems there are pros and cons on both sides of everything (and everyone has their own opinion!). Cord clamping however, is rarely discussed, has virtually no cons, a lot of pros, and is generally done without consulting the parents.
Since 1913 it has been common practice in Western medicine to immediately clamp the umbilical cord after birth, known as Immediate Cord Clamping (ICC)1 , a practice that has practically no known benefits2; other than the baby needing immediate medical attention, or perhaps simple convenience for the nurse and doctor to be able to evaluate and wash the baby immediately after birth.
Optimal Cord Clamping (OCC), also called Delayed Cord Clamping (DCC), is the practice of simply waiting an additional 2-3 minutes (some advocates say longer) after birth to clamp the cord.
Why? Up until the moment a baby is born, while in the womb, there is a continual flow of blood between the baby and the placenta, providing the baby with all the oxygen needed. At the time of birth, one third of a baby’s blood is still outside of its body, and inside of the placenta.
During labor and delivery, much of that blood is transfused from the placenta into the baby, driven by the force of uterine contractions. This transfusion continues beyond the moment of emergence from the vulva; and, if left undisturbed for a short 1-3 minutes, the placenta will deliver around an additional three ounces of blood to the baby.3
What does this blood provide? The two most important things are Oxygen and Iron…
-The first minute of a baby’s life is called the “Golden Minute” and the World Health Organization estimates that one million babies die every year due to birth asphyxia, or inability to breathe in the first minute after birth.4
-“One of the most time-sensitive and critical jobs a newborn must accomplish is to make the switch from gas/cord oxygenation to lung breathing. An understanding of newborn transitional physiology is emerging that stresses the importance of the blood volume and increased red cell supply provided by the placental transfusion to the start of lung breathing. Furthermore, while this transition to lung breathing is underway, the oxygen-rich blood flowing to the baby provides a potentially helpful secondary source of oxygen for the baby during the delicate process of switchover.”5
-“Three ounces of blood is equivalent to a three month supply of iron for the newborn. Iron is critical to brain growth and development; iron deficiency is a known cause of cognitive and social-emotional deficits in infants, which may be permanent. As breast milk alone may not supply a baby with all the iron he or she needs, it’s that additional iron that makes delayed cord clamping (DCC) so important.”6
-“Immediate cord clamping results in up to 10x the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.”7
-“At least 10% of the general U.S. toddler population (1-3 years of age) is iron deficient, with the prevalence rising well above 20% in selected ethnic and socioeconomic populations. Immediate cord clamping is only one of many factors that contribute to iron deficiency in early childhood. But babies who start out life low on iron have a very difficult time catching up.”8
Even the World Health Organization has changed its recommendation to advocate for OCC9 Please do your research, ask for Optimal Cord Clamping on your Birth Plan, and talk to your medical provider about their stance and practices.
Here is the video from Dr. Alan Greene, one of the most vocal proponents for OCC, in conjunction with TED talks, and the reason I wrote this blog:
Kyra Bramble is a published writer, private chef, teacher, yogi, traveler, dancer and doula. She is deeply passionate about birth education and empowering women to see birth as a sacred journey. She sees many parallels between the commercialization of birth and food, and is committed to bringing love and awareness to both subjects.