In many hospitals, the umbilical cord is routinely cut and clamped just seconds after the baby is born. But could this carefree clamping be causing damage to your newborn baby? Research today is increasingly revealing that clamping the umbilical cord prematurely robs your baby of much-needed blood and oxygen.
In the womb, a baby’s lungs are filled with fluid, and it receives oxygen through the umbilical cord. When the infant is born, the placenta and cord continue to pulse, delivering a burst of blood volume to the infant’s system. This blood is needed to help the the lungs of the newborn to expand. According to this startling article, Are Doctors Causing Infant Brain Damage by Clamping the Umbilical Cord Prematurely?—
Without the burst of blood from the placenta, the infant suffers a drop in blood pressure as its lungs fail to open as they should, creating a chain reaction of effects that can include brain damage and lung damage. Immediate cord clamping can cause hypotension, hypovolemia and infant anemia, resulting in cognitive deficits. Some have even theorized that the rise in autism could be linked at least in part to early cord clamping.
image from Mayo Clinic
Interestingly, the umbilical cord, if left intact, actually “clamps” itself in as little as five minutes. Wikipedia explains that shortly after birth, the reduction in temperature starts a physiological process which causes the Wharton’s jelly (that’s what the cord is made of) to swell and collapse the blood vessels within. This, in effect, creates a natural clamp, halting the flow of blood.
According to Dr. Mercola, the time between between birth and natural clamping, allows blood to flow from the placenta through the baby’s lungs. The natural process protects the baby’s brain by providing a continuous oxygen supply until the lungs are functioning well. While most full-term babies have enough blood to establish lung function and prevent brain damage, the early clamping can still leave them weak, pale, and gasping for air. For premature babies, the process can be even more devastating.
Immediate cord clamping could possibly be linked to:
- Brain hemorrhage
- Respiratory distress
- Cerebral Palsy
- Brain injury
- Learning disorders
- Behavioral disorders
On the flip side, G. M. Morley asserts that “the child which is delivered without the use of a cord clamp receives a full placental transfusion with enough iron to prevent anemia for the firs year of life… this is only a reflection of how much of the infant’s blood volume was left clamped in its placenta. ” (Read more here.)
Today there is no consensus about the optimal time to clamp the umbilical cord after birth. But I think it’s interesting to note the observations of Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather) from 200 years ago:
“Another thing very injurious to the child, is the tying and cutting of the navel string too soon; which should always be left till the child has not only repeatedly breathed but till all pulsation in the cord ceases.
As otherwise the child is much weaker than it ought to be, a portion of the blood being left in the placenta, which ought to have been in the child.”
Moving forward, this 1963 Time article suggests that there are sound reasons for a slowdown in cutting the umbilical cord. It is based on a study by a group of pediatricians from the University of California:
The California pediatricians base their theory on a study of 129 infants. Among 41 whose umbilical cords were clamped before they took their second breath, 21 showed moderate to severe respiratory distress. In another group of 52 infants whose umbilicals had been clamped some time after the second breath, only six suffered the same symptoms. The condition of the infants who retained their umbilical cords longest was by far the best.
Given the overwhelming research about the potential harms of early cord clamping, both the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) have dropped the practice from their guidelines. (Mercola) But it is still widely done in the United States and other developed countries, which I find hard to understand.