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Natural Childbirth: Delayed Cord Clamping

Photo by drcorneilusDelaying umbilical cord clamping is better for the newborn

Delaying umbilical cord clamping is better for the newborn

Do you know what delayed cord clamping is?  I remember first coming across this information in a natural childbirth book my midwives had loaned to me, and I was struck at how barbaric it is not to delay umbilical cord clamping.  In a typical hospital birth, the baby’s umbilical cord is clamped immediately after it has left the birth canal.  Yet, if you observe the umbilical cord, it is still pulsing and delivering oxygen rich blood to the baby, even though the newborn has taken its first breath.

Why did doctors begin early cord clamping?  According to Empowered Childbirth, it was to prevent anesthesia from “heavily medicated births” from entering the newborn’s bloodstream.  Empowered Childbirth goes on to explain:

When a human baby is born it needs to begin breathing air into its lungs in order to survive. However, it would be a mistake to imagine that a baby’s first breath contains their body’s first experience of life-giving oxygen. Oxygen is provided for the fetus throughout the entire pregnancy by the mother, through the placenta. Following birth the placenta continues to provide oxygen for approximately 5 minutes while blood pumps, to and fro, through the umbilical cord. This is part of an ingenious plan of God’s (or nature’s) to allow the newborn time to “unfold” his/her lungs and to gently make the switch from living underwater to breathing air through the lungs. Remember, the infant is not receiving “placental” blood or even the mother’s blood through the umbilical cord. The baby is retrieving its own blood supply from one of its own functioning organs that just happens to be inside its mother’s body.

With both of my children, we delayed tying off and cutting the umbilical cord for well over 15 minutes.  In fact, not delaying cord clamping can cause a host of injuries to infants, including:

newborn anemia, respiratory distress leading to brain damage and/or death (rare, yes, but it happens), inadequate blood supply resulting in a need for transfusion, possible heart defects resulting from problems closing off the hole in the heart valves following birth. There are a few doctors now theorizing that the rise in autism is due to brain damage caused by early cord clamping.

Judith Mercer, CNM, further explains problems related to blood flow from early cord clamping:

Early clamping of the umbilical cord at birth, a practice developed without adequate evidence, causes neonatal blood volume to vary 25% to 40%. Such a massive change occurs at no other time in one’s life without serious consequences, even death. Early cord clamping may impede a successful transition and contribute to hypovolemic and hypoxic damage in vulnerable newborns.

No matter where you deliver you baby or with a midwife or doctor, you can advocate for delayed cord clamping. It’s not just doctors, but many midwives also clamp early, so don’t assume your midwife will not clamp right away.  Moving from the womb to the outside world is change enough for the baby without having your lifeline severed before it has stopped pulsing.  Delaying cord clamping or tying is advice I think every pregnant woman should receive.


  1. i had heard of this before, but forgot about it. i (and my three siblings) were born at home, and, i think(!), they delayed clamping the cord (since my mom is the one who told me about this). but great point that you should check with your midwife (or doctor) about it. thanks for the info!

  2. So what if you choose to get pain medication for child birth? Is it still save to delay the cord clamping? I love the idea but still would be worried about the medication. I know most of you are big supporters of natural birth but some women still like to choose different ways.

  3. Gertie, that would be a question for your doctor, but I think that the medications used today are not as heavily used, so I don’t think it is still an issue, but I am not a medical doctor.

  4. We did this at my home birth. I agree that it seems barbaric — goes along with the general trend of ripping the baby away as soon as possible from the mother. The trend continues with not wanting to “baby the baby” by using controlled crying (Ferberization), and inducing independence in babies, toddlers and children way before their ready for it :/ Basically everything that is the opposite of attachment parenting and defines a lot of mainstream parenting practises.

    Now that I’ve ranted a bit 😉 I don’t think there should be a concern over pain medication reaching the baby when meanwhile, the mother has already been receiving it for hours! What is another 15 mins? I’m sorry to say that the notion is ridiculous, clamping early to save 15 mins when the mother already did not care enough about possible side effects of the epidural in the first place. You know, there are side effects to epidurals, such as breathing problems for the newborn, not to mention the way it increases the chance of other interventions.

  5. Sorry, wrote my comment quickly and not very thoughtfully. In case it wasn’t clear, I meant we delayed cord clamping at my home birth and it is barbaric, in my opinion, to clamp or cut immediately.

  6. Ok, I have to say I didn´t think about the long time of medication before the child is born and now that you´ve said it it makes sense that 15 min more will probably not make a difference but that´s still no reason to accuse anyone to not care about possible side effects. No mother wants to harm her child after carrying it for 10 months!

  7. I’m so sorry.

    I get really riled up by topics like this.

  8. eli's mom says:

    When I gave birth to my son, I considered delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord. I decided against it, however, because I gave birth in Colorado. After talking to my ob-gyn, midwife, and doula, I learned that delayed cord clamping at high altitudes increases the risk of jaundice. I don’t remember the specifics of why that is, but I did research the topic further and found scientific studies that proved the risk. If I would have given birth elsewhere, I would have delayed the cord clamping. While I don’t see the act of not doing so as barbaric, I do think it is a good idea to delay if you can. That being said, I also had an emergency cesearean and was GBS+, so I already had a lot of drugs in me. I didn’t want any more getting to my baby.

  9. I have heard the jaundice argument, and I have read it be refuted too. My niece had bad jaundice, and she had cord clamped immediately. I have not heard about the elevation risk though, and you have to go with what your medical prof. recommends! Pitocin and epidurals have also been linked to jaundice.

  10. I know a lot about this because i`ve experimented something like this.

    I`m so sorry.

  11. Mama 2 3 says:

    I delivered with nurse midwives and delayed cord clamping until it stopped pulsating with my first two children, and there was not a sign of jaundice but we were only at 1000 feet.

    My OB, first time I’ve had one but she’s delivered with midwives for her two children and is very in-tuned to natural childbirth, recommended not waiting too long since we are now living over 7000 feet and it does seem to increase the risk of jaundice.

    She said she doesn’t clamp right away, but usually within the first 1-2 minutes during her regular afterbirth routine. The research I have done states “late cord clamping” being at least 2 minutes after birth, so this is what I am putting in my birth plan. Hopefully this helps other mamas at high altitudes that would still like to delay cord clamping.

    Here is the article I referenced:


  12. Thanks for this! I had my last two sons at home and we did delayed cord clamping. It was lovely to sit and hold my newborn baby and nurse and still be connected by the cord.


  1. […]  The transition from umbilical cord to lung breathing is more gradual than many suspect, thus delayed cord clamping is also beneficial, plus infants don’t take their first breath until exposed to […]

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