When to Cut the Cord

Nope.  Not a euphemism.
I really am talking about when to cut the umbilical cord.  

I have become convinced that one of the greatest things parents can do to help their little one thrive outside the womb is to make certain that their care provider does NOT clamp the umbilical cord immediately after birth.  Clamping the cord almost immediately upon the birth of a baby is a routine intervention in the birth process that truly has no scientific basis and yet it is one of the norms in the medical model of birth.  Sadly, it deprives the newly born child both of an easier transition to life outside the womb and optimum health…possibly for years to come.

Basic biology helps us understand how it all works.  The unborn child does not breathe oxygen.  They are completely reliant upon that umbilical cord to "breathe" for them.  The umbilical cord pumps oxygenated blood to the baby from the placenta and that blood contains the baby's nutrients and "air."  At the moment the baby takes its first breath after birth, the process BEGINS of the baby's lungs breathing air for the first time.  Those are some crazy and important moments for that baby.  In the meantime as their body is figuring out how to breathe, the umbilical cord is STILL pumping vital oxygen and nutrients to the baby.  One of the worst things to do for that baby at that moment, especially one in distress, is to immediately clamp that cord that is providing them vital oxygen.  But that is what is routinely done.   

In fact, the placenta and umbilical cord contain up to one third of the baby's blood supply at the moment of birth.  This means if the cord is clamped immediately before that blood flows into the baby, that baby is deprived of their own blood.  Babies whose cords are allowed to pump have much lower anemia risks and higher hemoglobin levels for THREE months.  They have higher iron levels for SIX months.  This is important stuff.  This is the SAME blood that is chock full of those ultra important umbilical stem cells that offer so much potential for cures and healing.  It's the same blood that you can pay someone thousands of dollars to freeze and store in the event that your child needs it some day.  But many have theorized that the diseases that the blood is being saved to cure could be PREVENTED by the infusion of these cells after birth, the way nature intended, rather than being thrown in the garbage or frozen for later use.  If you've ever seen an animal give birth, you'll understand what we're talking about here.  After birth, the mother FIRST begins licking and rubbing her baby to stimulate him and warm him.  It is only after a bit of time that she chews through the cord and delivers the placenta.  There is no rush and the rest period immediately following a birth is critical.  People who breed horses will tell you that it is imperative that the foal is allowed to receive all the cord blood and that it can affect the health of the foal if he does not.  

We have not even begun to understand the importance and power of the umbilical stem cells but I think it is vitally important that we not mess around with depriving babies of these amazing cells.  That is exactly what happens when the cord is clamped right away.  All of that rich blood is either thrown away along with the placenta or it is sold for research and the placenta sold to cosmetic and shampoo companies without the parent's consent or knowledge.  (I do admit I find it rather funny that people are disgusted with the idea of seeing or consuming a placenta but yet have no idea that the shampoo and makeup they are slathering on their bodies was made with someone else's placenta.  But that's not weird.)

So, what to do if you are pregnant and you want to make sure your baby receives all of their own blood?  Talk to your doctor or midwife.  Make sure they KNOW that you do not want the cord clamped until it has stopped pulsating and is limp.  Do not ask if you should or can.  Be nice but firm that this is what you expect.  Put it in your birth plan if you have one.  This is your baby and you have the right to ensure that they receive all their own blood.  If your provider dismisses it, then perhaps you should find a new one.  Make sure your partner or doula knows to remind them right before the baby is born of your wishes so that in the "routine" of things, your baby's cord is not clamped prematurely.  I've  had to be pushy with doctors in the delivery room who wanted to blatantly ignore the parents' request.  Once the cord is done pulsing blood through it, it can then be clamped and cut as normal.  This can most definitely be done with a cesarean section without problem.  

One of the happy side effects of waiting to clamp the cord is that it slows down the rush rush rush that seems to pervade a hospital birth.  Everyone (including baby!) gets a chance to breathe and relax.  The baby can be placed right on mom and nurse right away (if he or she desires).  This has the added benefit of helping expel the placenta and facilitating the mom-baby oxytocin bond.  These moments are so very precious!  (And yes, those, too, can be had with a cesarean.)  There is NO need under normal circumstances to whisk the baby off to be weighed and doused with eye ointment.  Let that poor mother who has been longing to meet her baby have her moment.  Let HER be the first one to hold her baby.  When you wait to clamp the cord, the nurses and staff have no choice but to wait a few minutes and let baby and mom have those long deserved immediate post birth moments.  And everyone learns to just breathe a little more.  All those other things can be done after.  Your baby deserves to have all of his or her own blood and it will make a difference.

The difference: 
See that cord just a few moments after birth?  Still full of the baby's blood.

Luke's cord after waiting.  Completely different.

More Resources:

And there's tons more out there.  Here's hoping every baby gets the chance to receive all their blood and receive the best start possible.


  1. great post with info worth sharing.

    1. here is a link to a video on the topic of delaying cord cutting - http://thestir.cafemom.com/pregnancy/125775/delaying_cord_clamping_explained_video

  2. Mary, I never heard of this! And I use a midwife too! Ok, good to know if/when there's another one....I just wish I had done it for the first five.

  3. This just makes so much sense, it's crazy that it isn't more widely practiced. I'm (reluctantly) planning a hospital birth again for no. 3, though in a new hospital this time, and was so surprised when my midwives told me that they never clamp the cord until it's done pulsing, even if it takes an hour. I had no idea that there were hospitals with this policy - it made me feel better about the entire thing.

    1. That is GREAT! So good to hear that. I wonder if it's just those midwives with the policy or the entire hospital? It would be awesome if it was the whole hospital! Congrats on the new little one!

  4. I know this is an old post but i just found it. I was wondering what should happen if the baby is born with the cord around his neck. I have had this happen twice. With my first baby the doctor just slipped the cord off after the head was out but after this most recent baby the cord was cut off. My husband, who had a better angle to view the event then I had, said that the cord was wrapped around the neck really tightly and he didn't think it would have slipped off. For whatever reason, I had a much harder time delivering the placenta and then I bled a lot so there were other things on my mind in the minutes right after the birth. I didn't even know this had happened until the next day and at that point I didn't feel up to pressing the doctor about it.

    I like to practice delayed cord clamping and my doctors (all different, we move a lot) have generally respected this except for this last time. It wasn't a situation I had thought to ask about since I just assumed that the cord could always be slipped off if it was around the neck. What do you think is the best option for when this happens?

    1. Hi Anna,
      Congratulations on the baby! It's actually pretty common for a cord to be around the neck. I've heard stats of 20-30% of babies have some sort of nuchal cord. Most of the time, it can be slipped right off but there are times if it is too tight that the cord can prevent the rest of the baby from being born. There are maneuvers that trained midwives (and probably some great doctors) use for this situation such as somersaulting the baby or flipping mom over. Often, that can be enough to loosen things up but if those don't work then cutting the cord right then could be the only option. If the baby is blue when coming out then often delayed clamping is forsaken to whisk the baby away for warming and any resuscitation measures that might be needed. I don't think this is the best method and would much prefer that the nurses do that work right there on the bed or next to it so that the cord could remain attached and providing that baby with what could be its only oxygen, but unfortunately, that doesn't happen in most hospitals. It is being done some in Europe, though.

      It's hard to know in that specific situation what the best thing to do is without knowing exactly how the cord was wrapped. It may have been the best option but then again, it would have been nice for you if the doctor had tried some less invasive methods first to be sure. I'm sorry that you weren't able to have the cord delayed but glad that you and baby were otherwise healthy and safe! Congratulations!


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