As humans, we are inclined to make everything we do faster. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the delivery of medical treatments. But recent research may support delaying a medical intervention in order to benefit the patient.
The medical intervention in question is a process known as cord clamping. “Cutting the cord” typically refers to cutting an imaginary connection between a mother and child. In reality, it is the action of clamping and then cutting the umbilical cord that connects a mother and newborn infant, typically within 10 seconds of delivery.
Delayed cord clamping has consistently been shown to be beneficial in premature infants, but previous studies failed to show any major benefits with full-term infants. However, more recent evidence has shown that delaying this process may have beneficial effects in full-term infants as well.
In a typical birth, the mom will push for several hours to deliver a baby. Originally, doctors believed that clamping the cord immediately after delivery reduced the risk of heavy postpartum bleeding, an important intervention, as postpartum hemorrhage is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality worldwide. This tradition persisted until recently, when a Swedish group found that delaying the process of cord clamping helped the labor and delivery process in two ways: it reduced perinatal anemia and it decreased the number of blood transfusions required by these newborn infants.
In the group’s recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in Pediatrics, full-term infants born to mothers who were relatively healthy were randomized into two groups that either received cord clamping immediately or approximately 180 seconds after delivery. The latter was called the “delayed cord-clamping group.” When following these infants over time, researchers noticed an interesting change in the male infants. These infants had higher ferritin levels — in other words, they were less anemic — and had higher fine motor skills. They did not find these same results in female babies. However, they did find that there was an increased, although not statistically significant, risk of jaundice in the delayed cord clamping group. This jaundice required the babies to undergo phototherapy, a process in which exposing the babies to UV light decreases their high bilirubin levels back to safe, normal levels.
While most mothers may choose to delay cutting the figurative cord between them and their babies, these recent studies suggest that delaying the cutting of the literal cord could be a beneficial change in treatment paradigms. However, more studies looking at larger populations of infants are still needed to determine if this intervention is truly beneficial and safe.