When clamping the umbilical cord, doctors should wait a full three minutes after birth to reduce the risk of iron deficiency later in life. A study published in BMJ supports waiting to clamp the umbilical cord. Researchers reported improvements in iron levels four months after birth when doctors waited.

Iron is crucial during the first year of life when growth is fastest. When researchers studying the effects of waiting to clamp the umbilical cord for three minutes after birth, they found no negative side effects, but they did note an increase in iron levels at four months of age. Anemia and iron deficiency are related to decreased neurodevelopment, so the brief wait is well worth the time.

This is not the first study to prove delayed umbilical cord clamping is beneficial, but previous studies conflicted on the potential health risks, including a possible increase in jaundice risk. The study investigated 400 full term, healthy infants. About half of the infants had the umbilical cord clamped within 10 seconds of birth. In the remaining cases, at least three minutes passed before the umbilical cord was clamped. After four months, the delayed clamping resulted in higher iron levels and reduced risk of anemia. Researchers noted that one in 20 infants in delayed population suffered from iron deficiency.

According to Dr. Patrick van Rheenen, an author associated with a different report on the same topic, “The balance of maternal risks and infant benefits of delayed cord clamping now clearly favors the child. How much more evidence is needed to convince obstetricians and midwives that it is worthwhile to wait for three minutes to allow for placental transfusion, even in developed countries?”

Researchers and doctors associated with the study believe delayed clamping should be considered normal protocol in all full term, risk-free pregnancies. There is no reason to cut placental infusion short and the benefits of delayed clamping far outweigh any perceived risks.

Source: Ola Andersson, Lena Hellstrom-Westas, Dan Andersson, Magnus Domellof. BMJ. 29 September, 2011.