In the first moments of a newborn’s life, obstetricians make multiple crucial decisions to provide optimal medical care. One of those decisions is the right time to cut the umbilical cord. While it has traditionally been cut immediately after birth to quickly clean and deliver the newborn to its expecting parents, the health care community has started to rethink this age-old practice. The latest official change in thinking has come from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which recently recommended that obstetricians wait at least 30 to 60 seconds before cutting the umbilical cord, as reported by The New York Times.
Even before the ACOG released the new recommendations, many medical professionals extolled the neonatal benefits of delayed cutting. According to researchers, the umbilical cord is rich with oxygenated blood from the placenta that, if the cord is not immediately cut, can passively transfer to the newborn within the first minute after birth. This blood provides additional reservoirs of iron that greatly benefit infants’ short- and long-term development.
The most obvious benefit is the prevention of iron deficiency and subsequent anemia, which can hinder important aspects of an infant’s physical and cognitive development. In a Swedish clinical trial, delayed cutting reduced the prevalence of neonatal anemia and iron deficiency in full-term babies at four months old. Additionally, since umbilical cord blood contains immunoglobulins and stem cells, researchers believe that delayed cutting may strengthen a newborn’s immune system and aid in tissue healing.
For preterm infants, delayed cord cutting can be particularly lifesaving. British researchers discovered that preterm infants experience lower incidents of after birth complications such as intraventricular hemorrhage and necrotizing enterocolitis infection when given access to the supplementary iron from their umbilical cords.
The ACOG’s recommended cutting delay follows previous endorsements made by other prominent medical organizations, including the World Health Organization, which recommends a full 60-second wait, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives, which recommends a two- to five-minute wait. While the medical community continues to debate the potential adverse effects of a too-long delay, such as the development of polycythemia or respiratory distress for the newborn, the increasingly known benefits are undoubtedly changing the conversation on the optimal time to cut the umbilical cord.