How much of a difference can 30 seconds really make? According to doctors, cutting the umbilical cord 30 seconds too soon could deprive the child of receiving a life-giving surge of placental blood.
It is common practice when cutting the umbilical cord to do so immediately after the child is born. Often, doctors will cut the cord a mere 15-20 after the baby leaves the womb. However, the most recent recommendations for this practice state the benefits of leaving the umbilical cord uncut for a longer period of time – even up to 10 minutes.
By leaving the umbilical cord unclamped or uncut, the flow of placental blood continues, and with it comes a surge of oxygen. Within the first minute of a newborn’s life, much of that oxygen-rich blood is transferred from the placenta to the infant. While the first minute is the most important, some even suggest waiting 5-10 minutes before clamping the cord. However, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has settled on encouraging doctors to wait at least 30 seconds to one minute before attempting to cut the cord.
While cutting the umbilical cord immediately after birth has not shown any direct negative side effects, the benefits of leaving the cord uncut might encourage people to wait. The placenta, during gestation, acts as a set of lungs for the unborn fetus. Once born, the responsibility for supplying the newborn with air transfers to their respiratory system. The baby then takes its first few breaths, learning to breath without the aid of the placenta. However, the supply of oxygen in the placenta remains. By cutting the cord so soon, the newborn is deprived of one final surge of oxygen-rich blood, which can facilitate those first breaths.
Babies born prematurely can especially benefit from prolonged attachment to the umbilical cord. The risk of transfusions, anemia and bleeding on the brain greatly lessens when the cord is unclamped. For full-term babies, benefits include better brain development. A three-minute window was found to decrease risk of iron deficiency and assist in cognitive maturation.
If there are immediate medical problems, doctors are not encouraged to delay cutting the cord. However, if the newborn is healthy, there is no harm in leaving the cord uncut.
Before 1960, it was common practice to leave the umbilical cord uncut for even up to five minutes. This recent evidence suggests going back to the old ways, as the benefits for the newborn child can be seen immediately with their first breaths, and further down the road through cognitive development.