Postponing Cord Cutting – Why It Matters

Postponing Cord Cutting – Why It Matters

This question comes up in many of my childbirth classes: should I wait to cut my baby’s cord? More and more pregnancy magazines and blog posts are offering advice on letting the cord stop pulsating before clamping and cutting, and currently, most of the midwives I work with are adopting this as standard practice. But why? What’s the big deal?

Cutting of the umbilical cord has become a ceremonial moment for many couples, and the job of cord-cutting is often handed off to the non-birthing partner as a symbolic gesture of moving the baby out of the womb and into the world.

For some time this procedure happened in the moments after birth. Generally, as soon as possible the cord was clamped, cut, and the baby has taken over to the warmer to be wiped down and assessed. Thankfully we are taking a different approach today, as we now know that a newborn’s well-being is improved by a gentler, slower approach.

During pregnancy, the baby’s blood circulates through the placenta, where it receives oxygen and nutrients from the mother. At birth, for as long as the umbilical cord is pulsating (usually 3 to 5 minutes), blood continues to transfer to the baby. When the cord is cut immediately, the baby misses out on this normal biological blood transfer. If the cord is allowed to stop pulsating before being clamped and cut, the baby establishes normal breathing more quickly, and anemia is less likely to occur even months later (Raju). One study even showed that delayed cutting improved the social cognition and fine motor skills of infants several years later (NPR). In light of this research, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that they support the delaying of cord-cutting for at least one minute after birth.

Except in rare circumstances when the baby must be removed for urgent medical attention, most information suggests there is no harm in waiting. There have been some studies that reveal a slight increase in jaundice with delayed cord-cutting. Even with this information most of the evidence we see is in favor of delayed clamping.

As always ask your midwife or doctor what their general practice is. Discuss the benefits and risks specific to you and your baby and be sure to state your preference on a birth plan or during admission at your birthplace.


T. Raju, Bethesda, Maryland:
NPR and WHO statement: