When To Cut The Cord - Literally

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Being a parent is full of tough decisions, an almost daily weighing of benefits and risks as we try to get our kids happy and healthy into adulthood. The decisions begin almost immediately after birth, but new research may have solved one of the earliest dilemma's parents and doctors face: when to cut the cord.

No, not the metaphoric cord that sometimes keeps parents meddling in their kids' lives long after they have moved out on their own. A new study suggests that there are benefits, and very little risk, to holding off on cutting the umbilical cord, rather than doing it immediately after a baby is born.

The umbilical cord was our lifeline when we were a fetus in our mother's womb. This cord is clamped and cut as soon as we are born. As a standard procedure, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut early - usually between 30 seconds and a minute after birth.

The optimal timing of umbilical cord clamping has been debated by the scientific community for a long time. Some experts favor early cord clamping to avoid problems like neonatal jaundice. Others support delayed cord clamping to protect the newborns from iron deficiency.

A study published last month in the British Medical Journal not only supports the beneficial effects of delayed cord clamping but also finds no adverse health effects associated with it.

The study to compare delayed and early cord clamping involved 400 full term infants born after low-risk pregnancies and was conducted between April 2008 and September 2009 at the Hospital of Halland, Halmstad, Sweden. The observations from the study reveal that delaying the umbilical cord clamping by 3 minutes after delivery improved iron status and reduced prevalence of iron deficiency at 4 months of age, and reduced prevalence of neonatal anemia, without demonstrable adverse effects.

According to authors led by Ola Andersson, at 4 months of age, infants subjected to delayed cord clamping had 45% higher iron levels compared to infants who had their umbilical cords clamped less than 10 seconds after delivery. As per the study, for every 20 babies having delayed clamping, one case of iron deficiency would be prevented, regardless of whether the baby also had anemia. What's more, there were no adverse health effects in infants because of the delayed cord clamping.

The researchers say that given the enough evidence to back that delayed cord clamping is not linked to neonatal jaundice or other adverse health effects, delayed cord clamping "should be considered as standard care for full term deliveries after uncomplicated pregnancies."

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