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The 60 Seconds That Could Make a Big Difference in Your Baby’s Health

Image source: Thinkstock
Image source: Thinkstock

“It’s a girl!” my midwife shouted as I inhaled sharply with sweet, sweet relief as my daughter slipped from my body into her waiting hands.

I remember feeling amazed as they placed her on my chest, wondering how on earth I had ever lived without her before. Within seconds, we were mother and daughter, bonded forever.

But in those brief moments of our first meeting, there was also a lot happening behind the scenes. Below my nether regions, my nurse-midwife busied herself with the process of severing the bond that had connected my baby to me for nine long months.

While I gazed in awe at my newborn baby, in a span of a few seconds, the midwife had clamped the pulsating umbilical cord with two special clamps that almost looked like scissors, one stacked on top of another to leave a small space for my husband to cut through.

Before we had barely touched, we were separated and the blood supply that had been feeding, oxygenating, and nourishing my daughter, was gone.

Those brief seconds after birth are something so routine that most of us don’t even notice it. But what really happens during those 60 seconds — and what many OB providers overlook — is that the first minute of life is actually very crucial for your baby’s health.

The practice of immediately clamping and cutting the umbilical cord originated for doctor’s ease to be able to transport the baby or work on the baby if needed, and to ensure that no medication given to the mother would get to the baby. Some doctors also believed that clamping the cord might prevent the mother from hemorrhaging.

However, doing things just because “that’s the way they’ve always been done” could soon change, as more and more research is proving that waiting at least one minute after birth to clamp the cord (a practice known as delayed cord clamping) has surprisingly important benefits for the baby.

First off, there’s the transition from your baby getting oxygen from your blood supply through the umbilical cord to, you know, breathing actual air. Without the pressure from the umbilical cord, a baby’s tiny lungs struggle to keep up from the influx of blood rushing through them as the cells lining the lungs open up with a burst of their first oxygen from the air. The transition can be difficult for some babies and some studies have found that the delayed cord clamping actually eases that transition, giving the babies more blood and time and thus, more oxygen to get adjusted.

Delaying clamping the cord for at least one minute has been found to significantly increase iron and hemoglobin stores in the baby, without affecting the mother negatively. Some of the additional benefits of delaying cord clamping include:

  • Higher birth weights for the newborns
  • Higher hemoglobin levels
  • Higher long-term iron levels, with less iron deficiencies seen in babies at three and six months old
  • No increased risk of postpartum hemorrhaging in mothers
  • Less cognitive delays related to anemia later in life

The amount of blood that babies get from the cord immediately after birth is actually quite shocking. “We are talking about depriving babies of 30 to 40 percent of their blood at birth,” one doctor described.

When Nicole Lang, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mother, was pregnant with her son Gavin, she was surprised to realize that the general policies for birth, including immediate cord clamping, might not be in her baby’s best interest.

“I realized that I had those decisions to make,” she explains. “For me it was more of, ‘why wouldn’t we do this?'”

Lang describes her doctor as being “open” to the idea when they discussed delaying clamping the cord, and although her son had to spend some time in the NICU after he was born, she was able to do skin-to-skin with him on her chest for about five minutes without the cord clamped.

While Lang’s decision to delay clamping the cord was in line with the World Health Organization recommendations to wait until between one and three minutes to clamp the umbilical cord, the governing OB agency here in the United States, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, does not agree. They cite “insufficient evidence” that a change of policy is needed and urge doctors to consider the risks, such as for infants that need resuscitation or cord banking, when making the decision to delay clamping the cord.

They do, however, concede that studies have proven the evidence of delaying clamping with premature infants, as it gives them a much-needed boost of extra blood cells and actually reduces the risk of hemorrhaging for babies.

However, over in the United Kingdom, a midwife has successfully pushed for guidelines to change for cord clamping.

“It isn’t rocket science to leave the cord while it’s still pulsating,” Amanda Burleigh noted in an interview. “The growing evidence to support delaying cord clamping proved what I believed: that leaving the cord in place benefits the baby, as it allows blood that’s intended to be in the baby to get there. It’s just common sense.”

As a result of her efforts, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has officially changed its guidelines, joining forces with both the World Health Organization (WHO) and The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) in allowing doctors to clamp the cord anywhere between one and five minutes after birth.

The U.S. is behind the times with yet another important update for the health of mothers and babies? How shocking.

In the end, as seems to be the mothering trend these days, you may have to sort through the advice, even from medical experts, to decide what is best for you and your baby.

“You have to be your own advocate,” says Lang simply. “Do your research and make a decision based on facts and what you want for your delivery.”

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