New research on newborns suggests something we probably should have suspected all along, delay cutting the umbilical cord. Recent research reported in the March 21st 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that delaying cutting the once life-giving cord by at least two minutes results in better blood counts and improved iron levels for a baby. Current rule of thumb is to clamp the cord immediately after birth or wait thirty seconds and clamp.
There are some objections to these studies, claiming not enough evidence is presented and more studies are needed before clinical changes are widely recommended. However, the evidence is significant enough to warrant attention and maybe change the status quo from early to late clamping for many physicians.
There appears to be an absence of formal guidelines for most health-care practitioners. In the developed world most physicians cut the cord immediately after birth to facilitate the bonding between the mother and her newborn and to avoid possible respiratory problems. However in the developing world the timing is more variable with a greater tendency towards late clamping to counter the greater risk in anemia in those regions.
There is also the question of banking umbilical cord blood as it can be quite costly. Some parents choose to bank the stem cells provided in the umbilical cord as they can be a match for the baby later in life should the need arise. However, only half the time is there even enough blood in the umbilical cord to allow for the banking.
One study showed that delayed clamping lowered the risk of hemorrhage and the need for a blood transfusion. Some studies have found that even a slight delay in the cord clamping was very beneficial for preterm infants. Late clamping overall improved the blood count as well as the iron status of the babies and reduced the risk of anemia. The only negative effect was too many red blood cells, a condition medically termed polycythermia. However this condition was only temporary.
Although the evidence for later term clamping of the umbilical cord needs more studies to be more conclusive, I believe that delayed clamping will be the trend of the future, particularly for preterm babies who are more at risk for anemia and blood transfusions. This is definitely a subject I would bring up with my physician or mid-wife if I was expecting and I would incorporate into my birth plan, particularly in the event my infant was born preterm. After all, it does seem logical and common sense to delay cutting the cord as it does not appear to pose any harm to the infant and can only help the child that needs those additional red blood cells to prevent anemia and other related health issues.