Delayed cord clamping allows extra time, usually one to three minutes, between the clamping and separation of the umbilical cord from the baby, until pulsations in the umbilical cord have ceased or the placenta is delivered. This allows the remaining stem cell-rich blood from the placenta to be transferred to the baby after birth (up to one-third of the baby’s total blood volume).
Delayed cord clamping at birth has proven to benefit both baby and mom. Some studies show that the added blood volume in babies (especially in pre-term babies) increases their red blood count by 60%. Not only does this help prevent iron deficiency anemia, which can cause irreversible cognitive impairment and central nervous system problems, it also helps babies transition more efficiently from the mother’s womb to outside life. This process is also healthy for mom because keeping mother-baby intact longer prevents complications in delivering the placenta.
The biggest concern with delayed cord clamping is the risk of hyperbilirubinemia and jaundice caused by excess toxins in the bloodstream (common symptom: yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). While in the womb, the placenta processes and excretes the excess bilirubin from the blood, but once the baby is born, it is up to the baby’s liver to take over this function. With the extra blood from delayed cord clamping, this may not always be an easy task for the baby’s liver. About 60% of full-term newborns experience hyperbilirubinemia or jaundice with the risk being even higher for pre-term babies. However, these conditions are both very easily treatable, usually with photo or light therapy which have some mild but temporary side effects.
As with everything involving a new baby, the risks and benefits of delayed cord clamping can be overwhelming. It is ultimately best to leave up to your doctor’s discretion to avoid any potential complications during birth but is certainly worth the conversation!