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When Does Delayed Cord Clamping Make Sense For Your Newborn?

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If you've finally reached the second trimester milestone during your first pregnancy, you're likely experiencing some relief at getting through what may be the most physically and emotionally challenging 12 weeks of your life. However, this relief can quickly give way to panic at the number of decisions you'll soon need to make: whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed, use cloth or disposable diapers, or register at an in-home or center daycare.

In some cases, such as in the debate over delayed umbilical cord clamping, you'll be faced with these decisions immediately after your child's birth. Read on to learn more about some of the benefits, as well as the potential drawbacks, of delaying the clamping of your newborn's umbilical cord so that you'll be better prepared when the time comes.  

What are some of the benefits of delayed cord clamping?

Delayed cord clamping was nearly unheard-of just a generation or two ago, with doctors and nurses rushing to clamp and cut the cord (or allowing the new father to perform this task) before the infant was cleaned off or placed on the mother's chest. However, with recent studies on the versatile and nearly miraculous nature of the nutrient-rich stem cells contained within the umbilical cord, innovations in this field—from cord blood banking to delayed cord clamping—have become much more popular.

By delaying the clamping of an infant's umbilical cord, you'll allow oxygen-rich blood from the cord and the placenta to continue to flow into your infant's body for a few minutes after birth. This has been shown to improve oxygen saturation levels and reduce the odds of your child needing respiratory intervention, which can be especially helpful for pre-term babies whose lungs haven't fully developed. It can also reduce the risk of jaundice, common among newborns and often requiring treatment under bilirubin lights. Because more than a third of a newborn's blood volume remains in the placenta, allowing delayed cord clamping will significantly increase the volume of this blood that is transferred during the birth process. 

Delayed cord clamping can be beneficial for the birthing mother as well, as it can reduce the risk of sudden uterine hemorrhage after birth. And unlike some options that are unavailable if you have a c-section rather than a vaginal birth, delayed cord clamping can be appropriate even in the operating room. If you choose this option, the nurses attending to you will ensure that your child is swaddled in a way that allows you to have skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth even while the cord is still attached. The cord will then be discreetly cut after a few moments, and the placenta either delivered or surgically removed (in the case of C-sections). 

Are there situations in which delayed clamping is a bad idea? 

Although delayed cord clamping has a number of benefits for mother and child alike, it's not always the right choice for every family. If you or your infant has a blood clotting disorder, you'll need to consult your obstetrician or neonatologist to see whether delayed cord clamping is recommended. 

In other cases, your baby may literally wrap themselves in the cord during the birth process, making it imperative for your doctor and nurses to remove the cord immediately after birth to reduce the risk of strangulation. 

It's also important to be flexible. Even if you have had your heart set on delayed clamping for much of your pregnancy, circumstances may arise that make it risky or impossible. Being able to roll with the changes and adapt your newborn care plan if complications arise should reduce your stress levels throughout the process and lead to a happier, healthier mother and baby.