When a baby is born, it is still attached to its mother’s umbilical cord, which is part of the placenta and provides nutrients and oxygen to the baby while it is in the womb.
The umbilical cord is usually clamped within a minute or so of birth, before the placenta is delivered. It is cut shortly thereafter, although the timing can vary depending on the healthcare provider’s policies and practices. The purpose of clamping the cord is to reduce the mother’s risk of hemorrhaging after delivery.
However, a review of 15 randomized trials involving 3,911 pairs of mothers and babies published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviewssuggests that there are health benefits for infants, at no additional risk to the mother, when the cord is clamped and severed a little later—one to three minutes after birth.
After analyzing and comparing early cord clamping (within the first 60 seconds of birth) and later cord clamping (within one to three minutes of birth), researchers saw no significant difference in rates of postpartum hemorrhage.
However, there were advantages for healthy, full-term infants who had their umbilical cords clamped later. These included higher birth weight, higher hemoglobin levels and increased iron reserves lasting up to six months after birth. There was a small additional risk of jaundice, which is treatable with phototherapy.
The World Health Organization recommends clamping the umbilical cord one to three minutes after delivery and that access to therapy for jaundice be taken into account.