The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has released an update to their 2012 Committee Opinion on umbilical cord clamping, now recommending that all healthy term and preterm birth procedures employ a 30-60 second delay post-birth. As emerging studies have consistently shown benefits to waiting — for both mom and baby — medical professionals from around the globe are beginning to implement it as a standard practice.
Prior to the 1950s, early clamping typically occurred any time within one minute of birth. But after research claimed that 90% of blood volume is transferred within the first few breaths a baby takes, this ultimately led to a shortened standard, which has continued until now: cord clamping within 15-20 seconds of birth.
But new research clearly shows that in full-term newborns, delaying the umbilical cord clamping procedure actually increases hemoglobin levels and improves the ferritin levels (blood cell protein that contains iron) for the first several months of a newborn’s life. And that’s a pretty big deal: Iron deficiency for infants and small children can lead to irreversible impaired motor, cognitive, and behavioral developments. This extra boost of iron right after birth also reduces and prevents iron deficiency during the first year of a baby’s life. Rates of pre-term newborns requiring transfusions were also lower when cord clamping was delayed for at least 30-60 seconds.
Dr. Maria Mascola, lead author of the Committee Opinion, explained in a December 21 ACOG press release that delayed cord clamping does not typically hinder early infant care practices (like skin-to-skin contact or stimulating infant for the first breath).
“While there are various recommendations regarding optimal timing for delayed umbilical cord clamping,” says Mascola, “there has been increased evidence that shows that the practice in and of itself has clear health benefits for both preterm and term infants.”
The Committee Opinion’s research also found no increase in risks of hemorrhaging for the mother or any interference in the management of the third stage of labor.
The new update is certainly a progressive move forward, but it’s one the American College of Nurses-Midwives and the World Health Organization have long been advocating for. For parents about to welcome a new baby, the biggest change they’ll see in the delivery room (provided the new guidelines are being applied by their hospital or birthing center) is that following a vaginal birth, newborns will be placed on the mother’s chest immediately, with the cord still attached.
Considering the growing number of studies that have found proven nutritional benefits to delayed clamping in pre-term and full-term babies, this new update certainly reinforces an argument that many medical experts have been touting for years — and will undoubtedly alter health strategies for neonatal policies worldwide.