Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

Delaying cord clamping boosts baby iron

Delaying cord clamping best for baby No risk to baby, study finds

Waiting at least three minutes before clamping the umbilical cord in healthy newborns can help prevent iron deficiency, research has found.

Delaying cord clamping should be standard practice after uncomplicated pregnancies, and is not linked to neonatal jaundice or health problems for the baby, the researchers said.

Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia in young children is a global health problem as it can lead to poor brain development.

Young children are at particular risk of iron deficiency as they require more iron during rapid growth.

But delaying clamping the cord at birth allows more blood (and iron) from the placenta to reach the newborn baby.

Researchers at the Hospital of Halland in Sweden looked at the effect of early and delayed clamping on the blood iron levels of four month old babies. All of the babies were born after low-risk pregnancies. Some had their umbilical cords clamped within ten seconds of delivery, while others had them clamped after at least three minutes.

The four-month-old babies who experienced delayed clamping had better iron levels and were far less likely to have neonatal anaemia, the researchers found.

The researchers estimated that, for every 20 babies having delayed clamping, one case of iron deficiency would be prevented, regardless of whether the baby also had anaemia.

Past research has suggested that delayed cord clamping may increase the risk of health problems for the baby, such as jaundice, but the researchers found no evidence of this.

The authors said: "Our results suggest that delayed cord clamping also benefits infant health in regions with a relatively low prevalence of iron deficiency and should be considered standard care for full term deliveries after uncomplicated pregnancies."

In an accompanying editorial in the British Medical Journal, Dr Patrick van Rheenen, consultant paediatrician at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, said that enough evidence now exists to encourage delayed cord clamping.

"The balance of maternal risks and infant benefits of delayed cord clamping now clearly favours the child. How much more evidence is needed to convince obstetricians and midwives that it is worthwhile to wait for three minutes to allow for placental transfusion, even in developed countries?" Dr van Rheenen said.

This article was published on Wed 16 November 2011

Image © Karen Roach - Fotolia.com

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