Cutting the Cord

The common euphemism “cutting the cord” refers to the figurative severing of the sort of parenting associated with young children. When a parent stifle’s a child’s age appropriate freedom and, otherwise, doesn’t allow the child to grow toward independence, the parent is often advised to “cut the cord, already!”.

Of course, literally, all baby’s umbilical cords are cut minutes after birth but the act of severing the cord, itself, often holds as much meaning for parents as the euphemism does. From the moment the cord is cut, the child is forever growing toward independence, a separate being forever more!

While the idea, if not the practice, of banking a baby’s umbilical cord blood is now one that is close to routinely considered by new parents, there are other umbilical cord decisions that many parents don’t realize they can, and should, consider.

What exactly is the cord?

The umbilical cord is a gelatinous material called “Wharton’s Jelly” that covers two arteries and one vein which connects the baby to the placenta. Its function is to sustain life by delivering food, blood and oxygen to the infant from the mother. For 40 weeks the umbilical cord is quite literally the cord that delivers life.

The cord’s purpose, after birth:

In our culture, babies routinely have their cords clamped and cut immediately after birth, prior to the natural cessation of pulse in the cord. However, this is not necessary and there are some major nutritional benefits to waiting for even as little as 30 seconds or even as long as the cord takes to naturally stop pulsing prior to cutting. After birth, the cord continues to deliver blood back to the baby until it stops pulsing. This blood contains a high number of red blood cells; it is iron rich and contains maternal antibodies.

It is the very valuable properties of this umbilical cord blood that are so sought after by cord blood banks. This stuff is liquid gold! If parents opt not to bank a baby’s cord blood it makes sense to at least consider giving the blood back to the baby before clamping the cord.

In fact, cutting the cord immediately after birth can have risks that are seldom discussed or even acknowledged. A baby whose cord is clamped quite quickly could lose up to 50% of blood volume compared to babies whose cords are left intact. Clamping the cord before the infant takes his or her first breath can put other organs at risk as the child needs to compromise oxygen volume that would otherwise be offered by the placenta. Waiting to cut the cord until it stops pulsating decreases the risk of umbilical hernia in the baby. There are even many cases of neonatal death and great permanent harm relating to premature cutting of the cord.

For full-term babies, there is no harm to letting the cord be. In studies of over 500 babies who experienced delayed cord-clamping of between 3 minutes and cessation of umbilical pulse, there were no negative health consequences. In fact, higher red blood cell flow to vital organs in the first week was noted, and term infants had less anemia at 2 months and increased duration of early breastfeeding. When a baby takes his or her first breath of extrauterine oxygen, the extra oxygen delivered by the placenta and through the still-attached umbilical cord can give an extra boost.

According to Dr. Heike Rabe, a consultant neonatologist at Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals in Great Britain, “A slight delay in cord clamping for preterm infants is beneficial with regard to better blood pressure after birth, less need of blood transfusion in the first weeks of life and less incidence of severe intra-ventricular hemorrhage.” Dr. Rabe goes on to share that waiting too long, over 120 seconds, to clamp a premature baby’s umbilical cord can have the opposite effect by thickening red blood cells to much and causing respiratory distress in premature lungs. However the list of potential problems that premature babies are more susceptible to if the umbilical cord is clamped too soon is very long. For premature babies, a balanced approach should be considered.

While parents often plan who will cut the cord – the doctor or Dad or maybe even a younger sibling – there are more choices to be made that can have a much greater impact on the future health of your baby. It’s worth consideration and discussion with your doctor.