What to Know About Cutting the Umbilical Cord After Birth

Man cutting baby's umbilical cord

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In This Article

Cutting the cord can be a joyous moment in a person's life. Being able to symbolically break the link from the internal womb world to extrauterine life. This 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. The arteries are used 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, the umbilical cord also passes on antibodies, which benefit the baby’s immune system.

Why and When Is It Cut?

Once your baby is born, the umbilical cord will begin to cease. A mother will create a new placenta for each new pregnancy.

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 premies
  • Lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis and intraventricular hemorrhage in premies

While there hasn't been significant research, there are also several risks associated with delayed cord clamping, including:

  • Hyperbilirubinemia, a severe 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. This process works the same whether it's the mother, the father, a sibling, or another family member. Your doula can even cut the cord if you wish.

  • Remember that the mom and baby can't feel the cord being cut.
  • Be sure the cord has stopped pulsing for most births.
  • Ensure that there are two clamps on the cord. (The practitioner will be responsible for this part.)
  • 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 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 makes it possible for someone other than the mom to cut the cord, this might not be possible...

  • 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.
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Article Sources
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  1. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping After Birth. January 2017.

  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.