What to Know About Cutting the Umbilical Cord After Birth

Man cutting baby's umbilical cord

Jade Brookbank / The Image Bank / Getty Images Plus

Cutting the umbilical cord can be a joyous moment in a person's life—symbolically breaking the link from the baby's internal womb world to extrauterine life. How to do it is something that people have given a lot of thought to in recent years, with many more moms and their partners deciding to help take part in the birth.

What Is an Umbilical Cord?

The umbilical cord, which is the connection between your baby and the placenta, is typically made up of two arteries and one vein and covered in a thick gelatinous substance known as Wharton’s Jelly. The main function of the umbilical cord is to pass oxygen and nutrients from the mom to the baby and to transport waste away from the baby to the mother via the placenta.

The umbilical cord starts to form early in pregnancy, around the fifth week of gestation, and grows on average to 22 to 24 inches long. During the late stages of your pregnancy, antibodies also pass through the cord. These benefit the baby’s immune system after birth.

Why and When Is It Cut?

Once your baby is born, the blood vessels in the umbilical cord will begin to close. This cuts off the flow of blood between the baby and the placenta. The placenta will then detach from the uterus and be delivered.

In the past, the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut immediately, even before the delivery of the placenta happens. In the past decade, however, new research has shown that there are benefits for delayed cord clamping for both premature and full-term infants, including:

  • Increases hemoglobin levels at birth
  • Improves iron stores in the first several months of life
  • Improved transitional circulation
  • Better establishment of red blood cell volume
  • Decreased need for blood transfusion in preemies
  • Lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis and intraventricular hemorrhage, two complications in preemies

However, there are also several risks associated with delayed cord clamping, including:

  • Hyperbilirubinemia, a form of jaundice
  • Polycythemia, which occurs when there’s an excess of red blood cells in circulation
  • Respiratory distress, which occurs when there’s not ample liquid coating in the lungs after birth to keep the airways open

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends waiting at least 30 to 60 seconds after birth before umbilical cord clamping.

Steps to Cut the Umbilical Cord

Sometimes a mother will decide to cut the cord, or the partner or another loved one may do it. This process works the same no matter who cuts the cord. Your birthing team or doula will guide you through it.

  • Remember that the mom and baby can't feel the cord being cut.
  • The practitioner will be sure the cord has stopped pulsing (usually).
  • They'll place two clamps on the cord.
  • Hold the section of cord to be cut with a piece of gauze under it. The gauze keeps excess blood from splattering.
  • Using sterile scissors, cut between the two clamps. Keep in mind that the cord is thick and hard to cut.
  • Dab the excess blood. (The amount of blood depends on how long you wait to cut the cord, the longer you wait, the less blood.)
  • Place scissors away or hand them back to whomever handed them to you.

Additional Considerations

While delayed clamping is recommended for most births, it may not be possible in certain situations:

  • In the event of a cesarean birth
  • If the cord needs to be cut before the baby is fully born
  • If the mother has chosen to have a lotus birth, in which the cord is left attached to the placenta until it naturally separates from the navel in three to 10 days.
2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Committee on Obstetric Practice. Committee Opinion No. 684: Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping After BirthObstet Gynecol. 2017;129(1):e5-e10. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000001860

  2. McDonald  SJ, Middleton  P, Dowswell  T, Morris  PS. Effect of timing of umbilical cord clamping of term infants on maternal and neonatal outcomes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004074. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004074.pub3.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.