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Can Cutting The Umbilical Cord Too Soon Harm Your Baby?


We know stem cells from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood are a precious resource with powerful therapeutic properties. But today, thanks to new research and the work of campaigners, we are discovering cutting the cord too soon could be detrimental to your baby’s development.

Over the past 20 years, the number of families opting for the collection of their baby’s cord blood has skyrocketed. The practice is hailed for its lifesaving potential, allowing parents to either donate stem cells to a public registry and help save the lives of other children, or store them in a private bank for their own children’s future use.

Whichever you choose, collecting your baby’s cord blood and isolating the stem cells while you can seems a win-win situation. Modern knowledge tells us the hematopoietic stems cells from cord blood can treat severe blood disorders such as acute leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia, and that they may even be able to treat conditions like cerebral palsy and type 1 diabetes.

There’s certainly no doubt cord blood stem cells are an incredibly precious resource. The question today is whether or not these little building blocks of life are better off being harvested and stored or left in peace to be reabsorbed by your baby. For this very reason, many researchers now believe cutting the cord too early could actually be harmful to your baby.

Delayed Cord Cutting And Soaking Up Stem Cells

“Mean birthweight was significantly higher in the late, compared with early, cord clamping (101 g increase).” —The Cochrane Database’s cord clamping review

The first stage of labour begins the moment of the very first contraction. The second gets underway at full dilation and continues through the process of delivering the baby — what’s often referred to as the “pushing” stage.

The third stage of labour only starts once the baby is born. It involves the delivery of the placenta, which has been sustaining the baby throughout pregnancy, and the cutting and clamping of the umbilical cord which attaches them both together.

Common practice involves the umbilical cord being cut within the first few moments from the birth of the baby, keeping the third stage of labour as short as possible. The blood left in the placenta and umbilical cord, which constitutes around one-third of your baby’s blood and stem cells, is either thrown away as medical waste or, alternatively collected and stored.

Individual campaigners like Amanda Burleigh who believe the benefit of stem cell rich blood flowing from the placenta to the baby, along with scientists and medical experts whose research supports the notion, are leading to widespread changes in how doctors are advised to handle the third stage of labour.

Slowly, the evidence to support my theory has started to come out. In 2010, a study found that when the cord wasn’t clamped immediately, babies gained up to 214 grams in weight. —Amanda Burleigh,  Midwife and delayed cord cutting campaigner from Leeds

Building pressure and evidence has already lead to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updating its guidelines. The latest version states doctors and midwives should not clamp the cord “earlier than one minute from the birth of the baby” and instead, wait one to five minutes — and even longer if the mother requests it.

The purpose of the umbilical cord after birth is to continue supplying the baby with oxygenated blood until she can breathe on her own. It also ensures the baby has a healthy level of iron to begin her new life.

“Infants subjected to delayed cord clamping had 45% higher mean ferritin concentration (117 μg/L v 81 μg/L) and a lower prevalence of iron deficiency (1 (0.6%) v 10 (5.7%).” — Study on iron levels at 4 months, Department of Paediatrics, Hospital of Halland, Sweden

Amanda Burleigh believes prematurely cutting the umbilical cord could be one explanation to the plethora of development and health problems, from autism to ADHD, that are increasingly diagnosed in children. She states that out of the group of her six friends whose children all had the cord cut immediately, nearly half of them experienced learning difficulties.

Advice from New Parent Support, a non-profit organisation advocating the sharing of accurate and impartial information to parents, are also expressing their views on the importance of delayed cord cutting and having a natural third stage labour:

“Many women prefer to have a natural third stage of labour and, particularly if they are planning a natural birth, see no reason to have drugs to help them with this stage. They want to be sure their baby has all the blood from the placenta because this makes sure the baby has good iron stores and enough blood to easily fill the vessels around the lungs making it easier for the baby to take a breath.”

Drugs like syntocinon or syntometrine are often used to induce the delivery of the placenta — one of the reasons the umbilical cord is clamped so soon to ensure they don’t reach and harm the baby.

As a natural birth doesn’t involve drugs it, therefore, doesn’t necessitate cord cutting and clamping right away. The cord can be left to finish pulsating and transporting the blood and stem cells back to the baby — a process which can take up to 30 minutes or so after baby’s arrival.

The Third Stage Of Labour The Way Nature Intended

I couldn’t sit back and ignore what I had seen when it became visible to me. Because if we see something that’s wrong, we have to change it. I think we’ll look back in years to come and realise that immediate cord clamping was not a good idea. I wish I had known about delaying cord clamping when I was trained and also when my babies were born. —Amanda Burleigh

Following an intense labour, some blood loss, and the ultimate emergence of a gorgeous little being into the world, often the last thing on the parent’s minds is what’s going on with the umbilical cord.

Thankfully, research in the favour of natural third stage labour and delayed cord clamping is quickly racking up, public awareness is increasing, and it’s now becoming more and more common among mothers. What’s more, as we continue to learn more about the importance of our stem cells in early growth and development, the case for leaving the umbilical cord attached for longer is only strengthening.

With the new guidelines from NICE and also guidelines from The Royal College of Midwives supporting delayed cutting of the umbilical cord, conventional practice is changing in the UK. All we need to do now is make sure doctors and midwives stick to the guidelines and help more mothers and families to learn the facts and risks of cord blood stem cell banking. The third stage of labour, just like the first and second stage, should not be rushed — what’s important isn’t the clock, but doing what’s best for your baby.

Our children still need their precious cord blood, but this doesn’t mean you can’t still bank their stem cells.

Read more about the difference between cord blood and tooth stem cell banking, or contact us today and find out how we can help safeguard the health of your children by storing stem cells from their milk teeth.