Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord After Birth

You have been literally attached to your baby for over nine months. Finally, the day has come when you are going to meet your little one! You have prepared for this day. The baby’s room is finished. You’ve taken great prenatal classes. You have hired an amazing doula. So you know that you have options when it comes to cutting your baby’s umbilical cord, as well as what happens to baby’s cord blood following baby’s birth, right?  Perfect. But unfortunately, many people don’t know that they do. And it’s important because, as with many other interventions, it’s up to you to let your caregivers know your preferences, otherwise they’ll just follow protocol, which may not be what you want for your baby.

In this post, I’ll outline the choices you have when it comes to deciding on what to do with your baby’s umbilical cord following birth so that you can make an informed decision for your family.

1 – Immediate cord clamping

For many generations now, in a hospital setting, babies’ umbilical cords have been clamped immediately after birth. A small plastic clamp is placed on the cord close to baby’s body, stopping the blood flow from the placenta to your baby. Another clamp is placed a few inches away.

Your caregiver, and more recently your partner/family member/your doula/you, then quickly cuts the cord, separating the mother-baby unit that has been ever so close for over nine months. This is often a ceremonial and symbolic gesture of great importance for many families. Get your cameras ready!

In cases of emergency, immediate clamping may be necessary, as baby will need to be taken aside and be cared for. However, in general, baby should be placed on you, skin-to-skin, which promotes bonding between you and baby. Cutting the cord immediately enables caregivers to take baby away sooner than necessary and prevents baby from getting many nutrients that he would get with delaying the clamping by a few minutes (see point #2).

2 – Delayed cord clamping

More and more caregivers are realizing the importance of delayed cord clamping, meaning the cord is not clamped immediately but only after the blood that is in the placenta returns to baby.

Why would you want to wait? For a very good reason: to allow the baby’s blood that is in the placenta to return to baby, providing her with a higher number of red blood cells, stem cells and immune cells at birth. With an increase in blood volume, there are also more iron cells and studies have shown less cases of anemia. Lots of good stuff!!

How long should you wait? Is 30 seconds enough? Or is one minute better? Or should we wait longer? Since the word ‘delayed’ means something different for each person, I always suggest waiting until the cord stops pulsing and it turns white, meaning that the blood flow has stopped. In my ideal doula world, we’d actually wait until the placenta was delivered, as do many midwives. But in a hospital setting, we’re a long way from there yet. The last time I mentioned that to an obstetrician, she looked at me as if I had two heads!

3 – Lotus birth

Lotus birth is definitely not something the majority of people have heard of or would even want to experience, however, it is another option if you are birthing at home, in a birthing centre and at certain hospitals.

A lotus birth is when the umbilical cord is not cut, leaving baby attached to the placenta until the cord falls off on its own. Once the placenta is birthed it is placed in a recipient and kept beside mother and baby. It is then drained, washed and then kept in a bowl, covered in salts, herbs and/or flowers as it dries. About 3- 10 days later, it falls off naturally.

Lotus birth advocates believe that it allows a complete blood transfer from placenta/cord blood to baby, allowing baby the nutrients it so needs at this time, as well as minimizing infection. And because the baby is still attached to the placenta, it provides a quiet week following baby’s birth, which promotes bonding between mom and baby and helps with breastfeeding.

4 – Donate cord blood to a public blood bank

Many families choose to donate their baby’s blood to a public blood bank, allowing another baby to use the blood when needed.

What this means is that most caregivers will clamp baby’s umbilical cord immediately after birth in order to collect as much blood as possible. The blood is collected in a small plastic pouch, which is then sent to the blood bank. Here in Quebec, you’ll receive a call from Héma-Québec letting you know the status of your sample. You may ask your caregiver to wait 30 seconds or so in order to benefit from a short period of delayed cord clamping – some may do it, others may not, as they want to collect as much blood as possible.

You’ll want to note that not all blood donations can be used. Only a very small percentage of them are actually viable, either because there are anomalies in the samples or there is not enough blood. I suggest you call your public blood bank to find out the exact statistics. This will help you in your decision-making process.

5 – Store cord blood in a private blood bank

Private banking of baby’s cord blood is becoming more popular, but it is not common practice yet as the cost of doing so is quite hefty.

Questions you’ll want answered when researching this option include:

  • How much blood do you need for the sample to be viable?
  • What illnesses are covered?
  • Are there any serious illnesses in your family that could eventually be treated with cord blood?
  • How likely is it that my child will benefit from this, compared to another family member, such as a cousin?
  • How often are samples used?
  • How much does it cost?

Like any insurance policy, you will spend money and may never have to use the samples, which is just fine!

What option is best?

This is really for you to decide. Besides cutting the cord immediately, which benefits no one unless it’s an emergency, donating blood to others, banking it for your family or allowing baby to have its own reserves are all wonderful choices. What is important is that you know what you want to do and make it part of your plan.

Now that the cutting of the cord has been taken care of, here is a post on caring for your newborn’s umbilical stump.

If you’ve given birth, what did you do with the umbilical cord? Please use the comments section below – would love to hear from you!

Wishing you a beautiful birth and babymoon,


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