After a baby is born, it's common practice to immediately clamp and cut the umbilical cord, before passing the baby to her mother.
After all, the placenta and umbilical cord are unnecessary once the baby has arrived, right?
Due to a plethora of studies telling us that waiting before clamping the cord does offer benefits to newborns (after 10 years of lobbying, the UK are finally set to make delayed clamping to be standard practice), some of us have started to open our minds to the possibility of leaving the cord alone after the birth.
It seems that we've been thinking incorrectly in the past.
New research just out suggests that waiting before cutting the cord has more far-reaching benefits than we realised, with impacts well past infancy.
Researchers suggest that waiting at least three minutes before cutting the umbilical cord after the birth may help to improve children's fine motor and social skills at four years of age. This is in addition to the huge benefits already discovered.
Globally, clamping and cutting the umbilical cord immediately after birth is standard practice. In 2011, researchers demonstrated that leaving the cord intact for at least three minutes decreases the risk of iron deficiency in babies for up to 4-6 months after birth. Now we are learning that delayed clamping provides long-term benefits too.
Delaying clamping of the umbilical cord allows the volume of blood from the placenta and cord to transfer to the baby. This increases the baby’s blood volume by up to a third, providing valuable red blood cells and boosting iron stores. It also contains precious stem cells that belong to your baby. Why cut off this valuable source of goodness?
What The Researchers Found
In their investigation, the researchers followed up on babies from their earlier study. The children were now four years of age. Of the original 600 infants, 263 children took part in the study. Of these children, 141 had cord clamping delayed by three or more minutes after birth. The other 122 had cord clamping within 10 seconds of birth.
The researchers completed developmental assessments, including IQ and cognitive tests. Parents completed a questionnaire regarding social and personal care skills. The results of the tests and questionnaires showed there was no difference in IQ or development between the children who had immediate cord cutting and those whose cords were left intact for three minutes after birth.
But what the test results did show is that the boys who had delayed cord clamping (DCC) had better fine motor skills, such as gripping a pen, and more pro-social behaviour, compared to those boys who had immediate cord clamping after birth.
Girls generally have better iron stores from birth, and are better protected against iron deficiency.
Why Does Iron Matter?
Iron deficiency has long been associated with poor behavioral, motor and intellectual development in children. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends leaving the cord intact for one minute as a general practice, with a target of at least three minutes if possible.
Other peak groups as the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also recommend delayed or deferred cord clamping for at least one minute. The practice is not widespread, but is growing as the evidence showing the clear benefits grows.
Doctors vary in their understanding of the current evidence showing that delayed cord clamping is beneficial to babies for the first 6 months following birth. This new research has long term implications for how maternity care providers proceed with the management of the third stage of birth.
Iron deficiency in toddlers has become prevalent in developed countries. Statistics showing countries such as Australia, the US and UK have an average 10% of children aged between 1-3 with iron deficiency. During early infancy, the brain is rapidly growing and developing and iron is essential to that process. Limiting the amount of iron that is available to a baby during this time of rapid brain growth clearly impacts future brain development.
While iron supplements are an option, natural sources of iron are more gentle to tummies (much less likely to cause constipation) and are more readily absorbed.