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Premature Umbilical Cord Clamping: Cutting the Cord Too Soon

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As her due date nears, a pregnant woman anticipates meeting her new baby. However, the growing fetus nourishing and growing inside her, dependent on a mother’s blood, nutrients, and health, becomes a separate being once the doctor clamps and cuts the umbilical cord. The cord that ties the fetus to the placenta contains vital blood vessels that transport oxygen and nutrients from the placenta and waste from the baby to the placenta. Once the cord disconnects, the newborn baby is on its own, surviving through its blood supply and food intake. However, the timing of that separation is critical for the new baby’s health. When medical professionals cut the cord too soon or too late, they may cause health problems or deprive the baby of crucial health benefits.

Purpose and Timing of Clamping the Umbilical Cord

As a life channel to the baby, the umbilical cord does not close immediately after birth. Instead, the placenta and cord keep exchanging blood, oxygen, and nutrients until the health care provider clamps and cuts the cord. Today, a provider typically waits for one to three minutes before placing several clamps on the cord and then cutting between them. Once the severed cord detaches from the placenta, the placenta can deliver. Importantly, the timing of the cord clamping is the subject of some discussion, debate, and evolving recommendations among the medical community. It was the general practice previously that doctors clamped the cord almost immediately after birth, within one minute. However, according to the World Health Organization and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the better practice is to wait longer before cord detachment.

Benefits of Delayed Cord Clamping

Recent studies confirm that delayed cord clamping provides additional vital benefits for a newborn. “Delay” can refer either to when the blood flow from the placenta to the cord and back stops, or at least sixty seconds after birth. An exception, of course, may be when a newborn needs emergency medical treatment soon after birth. This is often the case when the baby shows signs of distress and lack of oxygen, perhaps exiting the birth canal with blue-tinged skin or other tell-tale signs of oxygen deprivation. Aside from medical emergencies, delayed cord clamping allows the newborn to retain more of their blood as the cord releases the blood until the blood flow stops.

Drawbacks of Premature Cord Clamping

Clamping before the placenta releases all of the remaining blood into the cord deprives newborns of higher red blood cell and iron levels. The more blood an infant has, the more iron they have. Babies often have low iron four to six months after birth, but delayed clamping can help to avoid that condition. In addition, delayed clamping provides higher iron level benefits up to six months, which may be critical to infants living where iron-rich foods are in low supply.

How can the Timeframe for Cord Clamping Impact Birth-Related Conditions?

In the past, doctors clamped early to avoid jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes due to excess bilirubin that comes from the baby’s blood cells. However, recent studies debunked that notion. Although there is a minimal risk of developing it, jaundice does not occur more often when providers delay clamping. Conversely, even a minute’s delay increases the survival chances of prematurely born babies. This is because they can better maintain higher red blood cell levels and avoid blood transfusions at birth. Preterm newborns also suffer fewer brain bleeds or intestinal damage when the umbilical cord remains connected longer after birth. Thus, more blood is even more critical for premature newborns.

Surprisingly, it does not matter whether the baby is born via C-section or with the umbilical cord wrapped around the infant’s neck. The benefits remain the same. A physician can recognize the umbilical cord issue, unwrap the cord, and wait to clamp it. The small risk of jaundice, which is responsive to phototherapy if the condition does not resolve on its own, does not compare to the clear benefits of delayed clamping. The added store of iron is beneficial to anemic babies. Likewise, recent studies confirm that delayed clamping does not lead to an increase in maternal bleeding or associated blood loss, as was previously thought.

Key Take-Aways for Doctors Handling Labor and Delivery

Overall, if the overseeing physician prepares to treat jaundice, identifies and prepares for labor and delivery risks, and addresses any birth-related conditions promptly, the delayed cord clamping benefits outweigh the minor risks. In fact, the World Health Organization recommendation is a one-to-three-minute delay before clamping the cord. Additionally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least thirty to sixty seconds’ delay before cutting the umbilical cord. They also affirm that the delay improves hemoglobin and iron levels in the beginning months of life, improving child development in full-term babies and lowering health risks typical of babies born up to three months before term. As a preventive and proactive measure, they also recommend that physicians delaying cord clamping ensure that neonatal jaundice monitoring and treatment are available.

Premature Umbilical Cord Cutting Negligence and Its Impacts

Healthcare providers who deprive anemic or preterm babies of the benefits of delayed clamping may be responsible for the consequences of that decision. For example, a premature baby with necrotizing enterocolitis, or inflamed intestinal disease, may suffer needlessly and experience additional, prolonged complications. It’s hard to imagine, but a doctor’s decision on cord-cutting timing may result in a hazardous condition that could have been alleviated or minimized with a mere thirty to sixty seconds’ delay of clamping the umbilical cord. Furthermore, those physicians who do delay clamping the cord but do not anticipate jaundice that requires timely treatment may likewise cause unnecessary harm to a newborn and their family. When the bilirubin levels are extremely high, untreated jaundice can lead to brain damage, seizures, cerebral palsy and lifelong cognitive impairments, or developmental delays.

As such, an obstetrician or another birth professional that fails to keep up with the recommendations of reputable health organizations and standard-bearing medical associations risks malpractice. In addition, medical professionals in all practice areas must remain abreast of all of the developments in their specialties. For example, numerous impactful studies confirm the benefits of waiting to cut off the blood supply and warn of jaundice possibilities. Thus, the medical professional who does not follow the recommended practices may be considered negligent if the child suffers injury or harm due to their critically important wrong decision.

Get Help from Experienced NJ Premature Cord Clamping Lawyers for a Free Review of Your Child’s Case

Consider getting in touch with our knowledgeable New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys if your child suffered unnecessary illness or birth injury due to a medical professional’s failure to follow the recommended guidelines on umbilical cord clamping. Your baby deserves compensation for their suffering and the totality of their losses due to negligent medical care. A successful claim for mishandled umbilical cord cutting or other errors before, during, or after birth can provide much-needed resources for you and your family. Find out how you may be able to recover damages and have future medical needs covered for your child’s care by contacting our birth injury team today. We invite you to call 866-708-8617 or fill out our convenient form to receive a free consultation regarding your child’s case. Sound legal guidance and assistance is available to you anytime.


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