Don't Cut the Cord on the Baby Too Soon, Study Warns

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Study shows doctors may be clamping umbilical cord too soon. Credit: Getty Images

Some doctors may clamp off the umbilical cord a few minutes after a baby is born.

Fresh research suggests that may not be such a good idea.

Clamping off the cord cuts the baby off from the last few drops of cord blood that contain stem cells that have regenerative properties and can grow into different types of cells.

Waiting just an extra minute or so may help prevent anemia in full-term infants, Dr. Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida's Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, tells U.S. News & World Report.

Sandberg led the team of researchers who found delaying the clamping of umbilical cords for 30 seconds or more reduced the incidence of anemia, intraventricular hemorrhage (brain bleeding) and late-onset sepsis (a complication of infection in the days after birth) and decreased the need for blood transfusions.

Sandberg tells U.S. News & World Report cord blood is "nature's first stem cell transplant."

"As we learn more about the value of cord blood, the benefits of delaying cord clamping may outweigh any risks, especially in preemies or in babies we know may have some problems before or shortly after birth," Sandberg tells the magazine.

The umbilical cord connects the developing fetus to the mother's placenta. During birth, the placenta and umbilical cord contract and pump blood toward the newborn. Within a few minutes of birth, the cord stops pulsing and the blood flow stops.

Sandberg tells U.S. News & World Report most women, in the course of human evolution, probably gave birth squatting, a position that would have helped the cord blood rush toward the baby in the moments after birth.

"If you look at most historical societies, babies were born using gravity, which seems to help the transfer of the blood," Sandberg tells the magazine. "It's only in the last century that Western medicine has focused on clamping and cutting the cord to separate the baby so quickly."

That's because doctors thought cord blood was the same as ordinary blood. They didn't know, Sandberg tells the magazine, that cord blood contains stem cells.

In fact, doctors once thought it was important to cut off the blood supply from the cord quickly. Obstetricians in '80s were taught to do that, particularly with preterm newborns, Dr. Bruce Young, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University's Langone Medical Center, tells U.S. News & World Report.

The magazine reports preterm infants run a higher risk of jaundice because their livers are not mature enough to break down bilirubin, a byproduct of red blood cell metabolism.

Preventing preemies from getting extra cord blood, doctors believed, helped prevent jaundice.

Once doctors learned exposing infants to light can help with bilirubin metabolism, Young tells the magazine, early cord clamping was no longer encouraged.

Cutting the cord too soon is generally not a problem, Young tells U.S. News & World Report. Few doctors these days cut the cord in under a minute, even for full-term newborns, he says.

Many mothers request to have the baby placed on their abdomen before the cord is cut, further delaying cutting, Young adds.

Nonetheless, he tells the magazine, the new study sheds and interesting light on the benefits of cord blood.

"The standard of care is not to rush cord clamping," Young tells the magazine. "My personal feeling is that the preponderance of evidence is that it's better to wait a minute or two."

Sandberg and his team's conclusions were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

Related: Labor and Delivery: What You Need to Know

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.