Delayed Cord Clamping: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Placenta in bowl at birth center. Little Earthling Photography.
Newborn baby still attached to placenta.

Placentas are truly amazing. Not only do they nourish your baby through pregnancy providing both oxygen and nutrients, but did you know the placenta is the only organ the human body grows and then sheds? I am seeing a growing trend in moms wanting photos like this showing the baby still attached to the placenta after birth. I love it when moms request this shot. It is truly special to see baby and placenta, side by side.

Mom cuts baby's umbilical cord after giving birth.

Pam cutting baby Ailish’s cord after birth.

When I gave birth to my first baby in 1996, I had never even heard of delayed cord clamping. My first seven babies were all delivered by midwives who never felt a rush to cut the cord so I thought this was standard. Because this was our experience, the sudden popularity of delayed cord clamping took me by surprise.

Lydia’s water birth

What is Delayed Cord Clamping?

Healthline defines delayed cord clamping as waiting “one to three minutes after birth”.

Have you ever watched a movie or video where a baby is unexpectedly born in a car or an elevator? And the dispatcher or emergency provider tells the parents to find something to tie off the cord? There really is no reason to cut the cord at all if you don’t want to. If the baby is healthy the placenta can be delivered before the cord is ever cut. In fact, the practice of lotus birth is never cutting the cord at all. After a few days the cord will dry up and fall off on its own.

Why Does Delayed Cord Clamping Matter?

Babies continue to receive blood and oxygen through the placenta for several minutes after birth.

According to ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), “Delayed umbilical cord clamping appears to be beneficial for term and preterm infants. In term infants, delayed umbilical cord clamping increases hemoglobin levels at birth and improves iron stores in the first several months of life, which may have a favorable effect on developmental outcomes“.

Newborn baby still attached to placenta. Captured by Bellingham birth photographer Renee Bergeron.

Bennett’s homebirth

I asked the Birthroot Midwives about how they handle cord clamping at their births. They told me, “Our habit is to wait until it is done pulsing and the parents are ready to severe it unless there is a medical need to cut it sooner. Delayed cord clamping has been shown to improve newborn hemoglobin levels and circulating iron, as well as give the newborn oxygen-rich blood as they are taking their initial breaths and inflating their lungs after birth.”

Below is a great visual example of waiting until the placenta is done pumping blood before cutting the cord.

Spiral umbilical cord still pumping bloold minutes after birth.

Here you can see Luci’s cord still full of color and still pumping blood. Did you know that when babies are born their cords are bright turquoise or purple from the blood flowing through? As the blood quits pumping, the cord will become less plump and turn white. Once that happens, there are no longer any benefits to keeping the cord intact.

Benefits of delayed cord clamping.

Here you can see Luci’s cord is totally white because blood is no longer flowing through it. At this point, the baby has reaped the benefits of delayed cord clamping.

Newborn baby still attached to placenta. Captured by Bellingham birth photographer Renee Bergeron.

Are There Times When Delayed Cord Clamping Isn’t Possible?

I have photographed a couple of births where parents chose cord blood banking. In these cases, they were told that the cord needed to be cut right away to collect an ample amount to bank. There are also emergencies that can prevent delayed cord clamping. While there is often no medical reason to cut the cord right away during a c-section that is still the norm in the US.

There are so many benefits to waiting even just a couple of minutes after birth to clamp the cord. If you are interested in delayed cord clamping, be sure and ask your provider about it.

How long after birth were your baby’s cords cut?

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