By Naomi Starsiak

Most everyone knows the steps that are taken starting at the moment when a baby is finally born; first the head comes out, then the rest of the body, the doctor clamps and cuts the cord, and the new baby is given to mom. But “what if” it didn’t happen that way? What if the baby came out and, rather than the cord immediately cut, it was left alone?

According to both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization the result would be increased hemoglobin levels and improved iron stores in the first several months of life in term babies and improved transitional circulation, better establishment of red blood cell volume, and a decreased need for blood transfusion in preterm babies. The only downside could be a possible increase of Bilirubin, leading to jaundice. As far back as the 1800’s, doctors knew
that part of a baby’s blood supply was in the placenta at the moment of birth andto tie and cut the cord too soon would be bad. Erasmus Darwin (grandfather to Charles) wrote a paper on the subject, saying, “Another thing very injurious to the hild, is the tying and cutting of the navel string too soon; which should always be left till the child has not only repeatedly breathed but till all pulsation in the cord ceases.

As otherwise the child is much weaker than it ought to be, a portion of the blood being left in the placenta, which ought to have been in the child.” That portion is almost 1/3 of the baby’s blood. Adults aren’t even allowed to donate more than 1/10!

Hang on, you might say, yes the baby should have all its blood but how long is this delay? Here in the US, a delayed cut is considered one that happens more than 30 seconds after the baby is born. 30 seconds. Most placentas will be fully emptied somewhere between 3 – 5 minutes after the baby is born.

Okay, but what about the jaundice? Isn’t that bad? The down side to babies having a higher amount of blood in their bodies is that they can also have a higher level of bilirubin – byproducts of normal red blood cell break down – which babies have a harder time clearing from their system. This situation,
called jaundice, is fairly normal in babies anyway and there are a few ways of handling it easily.

The body gets rid of bilirubin by filtering in the kidneys and expelling it in the urine. Frequent nursing will help the baby to pee more which will, in turn, expel more bilirubin. Also, sunlight can break down bilirubin before it gets to the kidneys making it easier to filter. Letting a baby lay in the sunlight, wearing just a diaper, for five minutes or so can aid in clearing jaundice (morning or evening, never direct afternoon sun). If bilirubin levels are high enough that more intervention is needed, the medical
treatment is phototherapy; with the baby lying under a lamp that produces the same helpful part of sunlight without the UV rays.

On the whole, the benefit of delaying the cord clamping by even one minute is immense and letting the cord and placenta completely drain on its own is even better. But, since it can take a while for new research to reach every nurse and doctor, a quick reminder to the doctor catching the baby is
fine. “We’d like to wait for the cord to stop pulsing before you clamp it.”, is all it takes to give your baby an extra boost at the start.

Naomi Starsiak

Naomi Starsiak is a birth and postpartum doula, a placenta encapsulator, a natural birth consultant, and the co-owner of A Peaceful Birth doula & childbirth service. You can find her on Facebook at facebook. com/APeacefulBirthDoulas. Have a question? E-mail it to Naomi at

Lockwood Law


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