One of birth’s most common practices is about to change.

Since the 1950s, it has been standard practice to clamp the umbilical cord within seconds of a baby being born. It was always done this quickly to reduce the risk of the hormonal injection — given to the mother to stop hemorrhaging — on the infant.

However, that drug has since been replaced with a safer substitute, so one midwife, Amanda Burleigh, questioned the need to shut off the blood supply from the placenta so early. In fact, she spent a decade researching the longstanding medical protocol, only to discover that cutting the cord immediately after birth, while it was still pulsating with blood, had negative effects: it deprived the newborn of a third of its blood stock, increased the risk of iron deficiency anemia, and could lead to cognitive learning delays.

Despite receiving backlash and criticism from many in the medical community, her findings made their way to Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and the organization recently changed its guidelines on umbilical cord clamping.

“I couldn’t sit back and ignore what I had seen when it became visible to me,” Burleigh said. “I think we’ll look back in years to come and realize that immediate cord clamping was not a good idea.”

The new best practice is that doctors and midwives should not routinely cut the cord “earlier than one minute from the birth of the baby.” It also suggests that waiting from one to five minutes post-birth is fine, or even longer with the mother’s request. That might seem like no time at all, but to a newborn baby, every minute counts.

by Kate Schweitzer