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What is Delayed Cord Clamping (DCC)?
Delayed cord clamping is the prolongation of the time between the delivery of a newborn and the clamping of the umbilical cord, allowing more blood to transfer from the placenta to the baby, sometimes increasing the child’s blood volume by up to a third.
Oh, wait, what is an umbilical cord?
GREAT question! It is an integral part of the baby’s life source in-utero and immediately after birth. The umbilical cord is made up of two arteries and one vein. The two arteries carry blood away from the baby and deliver it into the placenta. The placenta does its mighty job to nourish the blood, cleanse it, and oxygenate it. Then the vein takes the “juiced up” blood back into the baby! It’s an incredible system if you ask us.
Why is Delayed Cord Clamping important?
Well, now that you know the function of the placenta and umbilical cord, surely you can imagine why it’s important. What some don’t realize is that when the baby is born the placenta and umbilical cord are still functioning immediately after birth. It’s a brilliant design! You see, the baby has three different bypasses that have to close off after birth as (s)he transitions into life on his or her own. One of the bypasses is in their liver and there are two bypasses in the heart. These bypasses exist because the placenta does the job for the baby in-utero, but once the baby is born they have to function all on their own.
Thankfully as long as the placenta is attached to the mother’s uterus after birth, it will continue to supply the baby with oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to help the newly born baby transition. So a MAJOR benefit of Delayed Cord Clamping is that it helps oxygenate the newborn immediately after birth as they take their first breaths and begin to oxygenate their blood all on their own. This can be vitally important if a newborn baby is having a difficult time taking their first breaths.
Are there any other benefits to Delayed Cord Clamping?
Why YES there are! The other benefit of Delayed Cord Clamping is that it allows the baby’s blood that is being circulated through the placenta, to be filtered from the placenta back into the baby’s system. This process completes the newborn’s blood volume. This blood is rich with things like stem cells, which are vitally important to the newborn’s cellular structure that will be carried with them for the rest of their lives. If a care provider immediately clamps the umbilical cord at the moment of birth it could deprive the newborn of up to 40% of their blood volume. Crazy, right?!? This could obviously have numerous repercussions for newborn babies. Delayed Cord Clamping is so important that many Obstetricians delay cord clamping even in cesarean deliveries these days! Below you can see how the blood from the placenta drains into the baby through the umbilical cord overtime after birth:
Is there any danger to Delayed Cord Clamping?
There once was a fear that leaving the umbilical cord attached and unclamped would cause the baby to lose blood out of their system into the placenta and it wouldn’t return. We know now that’s impossible. You see the amazing umbilical cord is filled with this cool stuff called Wharton’s Jelly. It’s the stuff that protects the cord from kinking and knotting in-utero. Then once the baby is born, as the Wharton’s Jelly is exposed to extreme temperature changes, it begins to expand which occludes (or shuts off) the tiny little arteries. Thus no blood escapes the baby after the placenta shuts down. The vein, on the other hand, is large and remains open allowing the blood from the placenta to drain back into the baby… completing their blood volume! Ta-Da!
I’ve heard babies with DCC are more likely to get jaundice, is that true?
What exactly causes jaundice? Jaundice is the build-up of bilirubin (which is the byproduct of broken-down red blood cells) in the bloodstream. Since a newborn with Delayed Cord Clamping has a higher blood volume than a baby withOUT Delayed Cord Clamping, they are going to have more red blood cells that will be broken down and will, therefore, cause additional bilirubin. However, because the newborn with DCC has a higher blood volume, their bodily systems are functioning at a more optimal level because of proper perfusion/oxygenation, and can then break down the bilirubin and process it through their systems at a faster rate.
The scientific research shows us that even though babies with DCC have higher bilirubin levels (because they have more red blood cells that are being broken down), they do NOT have a higher incidence of “clinical jaundice” – which is the kind of jaundice that would require medical intervention.
Last fun fact, that happens to be one of our favorite benefits of Delayed Cord Clamping:
As long as the baby is still attached to mommy, no one is holding the baby besides mommy. Let’s face it, not many people are interested in holding a newborn that is still attached to the mother through an umbilical cord leading up to her uterus. Just sayin’! And furthermore, no one is able to separate mommy and baby. This also allows for continuous skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth.