At birth, not cutting the umbilical cord has many benefits

Three minutes of additional attachment to mommy can make a difference in a child’s mental and physical development a few years later, research suggests. A delay of a few minutes in cutting the umbilical cord (actually, it is usually clamped) after birth allows more iron-rich blood to transfer to the baby, which may result in development of better hand-eye coordination when the child grows into a preschooler.

The news comes via an article in the Daily Mail.

263 Swedish children aged four years were reviewed in the new study. All children were born to healthy mothers and were birthed at full term. These children were selected for follow-up because they were a part of a wider study of 382 babies involving delayed cord-cutting. As newborns, babies from this earlier research were randomly divided into two batches. One group of babies had their umbilical cord cut within 10 seconds of birth. For the second batch, doctors waited for at least three minutes after birth to cut the umbilical cord.

In the follow-up four years later, the children were assessed with IQ, motor skills and behaviour tests. Parents were made to fill out a questionnaire on their child’s development in problem solving, communication and social skills. The researches found that IQ and brain development were not affected by early or late cord cutting. However, there were some differences in the physical skill levels the two groups, but that too only amongst males. Boys whose cords had been cut after a delay had a more “mature” pencil grip, indicating a increased adeptness at fine motor function. Fine motor function refers to the synchronization of muscles, bones, and nerves with the eyes to produce small actions. These boys also scored better on certain tests for social skills.

‘When you just meet a child, you wouldn’t see or notice any differences. But we could see the differences in fine motor function,’ lead author Ola Andersson, of Uppsala University in Sweden, told Reuters Health.

These difference, however, were not found amongst the girls. This could be because iron deficiency is much more common among male infants than among females, Andersson said.

Delaying cord clamping by three minutes allows an extra 3.5 ounces of blood to transfuse to the baby, which is equivalent to a half a gallon (almost 2 L) of blood for an adult, he added. He said, ‘There’s a lot of iron in that volume. Even three minutes can have quite a lot of effect on the iron in the blood in the body for a long time after birth.’

While this research brings to light certain benefits of delaying cord-cutting, the medical community has long known that a delay in clamping the cord allows more iron to be transferred to the newborn, which helps prevent infant anemia. An online article by Indian Pediatrics states, “The timing of the clamping of the umbilical cord at delivery is also a factor in the development of anemia(9). The amount of blood transferred to the infant depends on whether the cord is clamped early (less than a minute), inter-mediately (one to three minutes), or late (after pulsations cease)(9). For example, if the cord is not cut until pulsations cease, the infants will receive a 20-30 ml/kg body weight transfusion, which is the equivalent to approximately 30-35 mg of additional iron. To put this amount of iron into perspective, this is the equivalent to the amount of iron in 100 liters of human milk.”

Delayed cord-clamping is part of the India Newborn Action Plan, a comprehensive vision and training document that was published in September 2014 by the government and the then-Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.

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