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Waiting two minutes before cutting umbilical cords improves early newborn development

Umbilical cord

(NaturalNews) Waiting for two minutes before cutting the umbilical cord following birth improves infants' antioxidant status and leads to better infant development in the first few days of life, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Granada and the San Cecilio Clinical Hospital, and published in the journal Pediatrics.

Umbilical cord clamping is one of the most cross-culturally common medical interventions, and potentially one of the oldest. Yet great variation -- and controversy -- exists regarding the timing of the clamping. In high-income countries, it is typically more common to clamp the cord less than a minute following birth. Yet evidence shows that blood usually continues to flow from mother to infant for longer than this, and that early clamping may therefore increase the infant's risk of various health problems.

The World Health Organization recommends that cord clamping take place between one and three minutes following birth.

Antioxidants produce better outcomes

The new study was conducted on 64 healthy pregnant women with uncomplicated pregnancies who began vaginal delivery spontaneously and delivered at the San Cecilio Clinical Hospital in Granada. Half of the infants delivered had their umbilical cords cut 10 seconds following delivery, while the other half had their cords cut 2 minutes after delivery.

The researchers found that infants with delayed cord clamping had improved antioxidant capacity. In cases of induced delivery, the infants with delayed clamping had less inflammatory effects than the infants whose cords were clamped after seconds.

"Our study demonstrates that late clamping of the umbilical cord has a beneficial effect upon the antioxidant capacity and reduces the inflammatory signal induced during labour," said principal investigator Julio Jose Ochoa Herrera, "which could improve the development of the newborn during his or her first days of life."

Evidence of benefits mounts

According to Hannah Dahlen, a midwifery professor at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, the study adds to a growing body of evidence that delayed cord clamping improves infant health.

"The baby ends up with a third more blood volume if you don't do early clamping. If you deprive a baby of a substantial amount of blood volume, it's not too surprising there is an affect physiologically," she said.

"A large study review found there were several benefits to delayed cord clamping -- babies are more likely to have higher haemoglobin, there is more evidence babies resuscitate better, particularly if they are pre-term, and there is some evidence around behavioural and educational scores being affected."

That review was published in the prestigious Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013.

"In light of growing evidence that delayed cord clamping increases early haemoglobin concentrations and iron stores in infants, a more liberal approach to delaying clamping of the umbilical cord in healthy babies appears to be warranted," said researcher Philippa Middleton of the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia, at the time.

The 2013 review did find an increased risk of jaundice among infants with delayed cord clamping.

"But the jaundice that causes serious problems doesn't appear to be part of it," Professor Dahlen said.

In addition, even more serious jaundice is easily treated with phototherapy -- hence the 2013 article's recommendation of delayed cord clamping in settings where phototherapy is easily available.

Rebutting arguments made by proponents of rapid cord clamping, the 2013 review also found no increase in risk of maternal bleeding from delayed clamping.

Yet Australian guidelines still recommend immediate clamping, Dahlen said.

"More and more women are asking for delayed cord clamping and they are often almost treated like criminals," she said. "Doctors and midwives in the hospital system are saying you could increase your risk of bleeding but we know that isn't true."

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