The great umbilical cord-cutting debate

Story highlights

  • Medical studies have shown the positive effects of delayed cord cutting
  • The World Health Organization recommends delayed umbilical cord cutting between 1 to 3 minutes after birth
  • American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists says most umbilical cords are cut within 15 to 20 seconds after birth

(CNN)For the layperson, a few minutes might tick by without a second thought, but those precious minutes after a baby is born could be beneficial for newborns later in life, some doctors say. When to "clamp" and or cut one of the most prominent fixtures associated with childbirth, the umbilical cord, has been at the center of an international cord-cutting clash for decades.

What started as a grass-roots movement by UK midwife Amanda Burleigh nearly a decade ago, has recently grabbed the attention of medical doctors around the world. "I wanted to find answers to why so many children, including mine, my friends' and my colleagues' appeared to have additional learning and health needs, especially the boys," said Burleigh. So she started reflecting on her own practice as a midwife.
    "I began to question why we were trained to cut the umbilical cord immediately after a baby was born," said Burleigh. "I then started to explore my theory that there must be a link to a child's health based on when the cord is cut." Her curiosity grew into a movement.
    Doctors say before the mid-1950s, when many babies were delivered by midwives, most cord cutting happened when the umbilical cord stopped pulsating, around five minutes after birth. Despite a growing body of medical evidence, the exact time frame when the cord should be clamped continues to be a controversial topic among the medical community.
    According to the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists, or ACOG, generally most umbilical cord clamping happens within 15 to 20 seconds after birth. The ACOG does not endorse the practice of delayed cord clamping but rather suggests cord clamping should take place between 30 to 60 seconds after birth, since the ideal timing for cord clamping has yet to be established.
    Many international health organizations, including the World Health Organization, now recommend umbilical cord clamping be performed from one to three minutes after birth.
    Medical studies have suggested positive effects of delayed cord clamping after birth, including increases in iron stores, blood volume and brain development. In a study released this week in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers in Sweden measured the effects of delayed cord clamping on children past infancy and up to four years, a time frame few doctors have examined.
    In the study, a group of 263 healthy Swedish full-term babies were randomly split into two groups. One group had their umbilical cords clamped less than 10 seconds after birth. The cords of the other group were clamped three minutes after birth. The two groups were then monitored for four years. The babies with del