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Cutting Umbilical Cord Immediately May Help Lead to Anemia, Iron Deficiency and Poor Brain Development

Update Date: Apr 26, 2013 01:10 PM EDT

For years, many fathers were in the delivery room to do things: to encourage the mother during labor and, when it was all over, to cut the umbilical cord. A recent campaign in the United Kingdom is seeking for fathers to cut the cord a tad bit later now. They argue that cutting the cord too early can put babies at risk for iron deficiency, which can lead to developmental problems later on.

The Telegraph reports that, since the 1960s, official procedure in the United Kingdom has been to clamp the cord as early as possible. That practice was even codified into the official guidelines that were first published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2007. However, activists say that practice can ultimately harm the baby and should be postponed.

Campaigners point out that, after delivery, up to a third of the baby's blood supply is still in the umbilical cord and placenta. By waiting for 30 seconds to five minutes, or up until the cord stops pulsating, doctors and parents can ensure that their baby has received their full blood supply.

Some studies have found that babies whose cords are cut immediately may have lower stores of iron for up to six months. While that may not seem like a long time, that deficiency can impact brain development. Waiting until the cord stops pulsating naturally could also lower the incidence of anemia, and would be particularly beneficial after premature births.

However, there are circumstances in which it is better for both mother and baby for the cord to be cut sooner than later. Those circumstances include labors during which the baby was asphyxiated or if the mother was bleeding excessively.

"With no good evidence to support it, accepted practice is to accelerate the arrival of the placenta with an injection and clamp and cut the cord immediately, depriving the baby of this blood," Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said to BBC. "The NCT would like to see the default position become leaving the cord for a few minutes until it stops pulsating, unless the mother chooses to have an injection to speed the arrival of her placenta or unless the blood loss from the mother means her uterus must be encouraged, with drugs, to contract and expel the placenta quickly."

Some mothers are going even further than these wishes. Lotus births, in which the umbilical cord remains attached to the baby for up to 10 days, are gaining popularity in certain circles.

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