Allowing the placental transfusion has immediate, as well as longer term, benefits for your child. One of the most time-sensitive and critical jobs a newborn must accomplish is to make the switch from gas/cord oxygenation to lung breathing. An understanding of newborn transitional physiology is emerging that stresses the importance of the blood volume and increased red cell supply provided by the placental transfusion to the start of lung breathing (Mercer, 2002; see also Goer and Romano, 2012, page 403). Furthermore, while this transition to lung breathing is underway, the oxygen-rich blood flowing to the baby provides a potentially helpful secondary source of oxygen for the baby during the delicate process of switchover (van Rheenen, 2011).
“Anaemia is now a recognized complication of early cord clamping”
—(Downey and Blewly 2012).
Researchers are now connecting the dots between the global public health problem of anemia in young children worldwide and the practice of early cord clamping. The authors of a recent, well-designed study found that delayed cord clamping significantly improves iron status and reduces anemia and iron deficiency to 4 months of age (Andersson, et al, 2011). Others have followed the benefits of improved iron stores to 6 and 7 months (Chapparro, 2006; Mercer, 2010).
Interestingly, this time frame tracks with the general period recommended for exclusive breastfeeding. And, curiously, as perfect a food as breast milk is, it does not supply iron to our babies. Could it be that nature has designed it such that a few minutes of blood transfusing at the time of birth ensures the necessary iron for the baby’s development for the first half-year? It would appear so. Unfortunately, this means that if cords are clamped according to current practices, our breastfed babies are at the highest risk for iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency, the primary cause of anemia, is of concern because it can negatively impact a child’s cognitive and motor development (Andersson, 2011). With a quarter of the world’s population experiencing anemia, a simple shift in practices at the time of birth may potentially help our next generation, especially those who are exclusively breasted for their first months, to start life on the outside with iron levels that support optimal brain development.
This is no ordinary blood we are discussing. It is chock full of stem cells, those immature, self-renewing cells that can turn into a variety of tissues. The authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine suggest delaying cord clamping in order to realize “mankind’s first stem cell transfer”:
“Nature’s first stem cell transplant occurs at birth when the placenta and umbilical cord start contracting and pumping blood toward the newborn… This phenomenon occurs in most placental mammals and this transfusion of blood is allowed to end physiologically in most species except in human beings. Human beings manipulate the transition from foetal to neonatal life by early clamping of the umbilical cord, meaning that nature’s first stem cell transplant is curtailed, thus depriving infants of additional stem cells” (Tolosa et al., 2010).
They describe the essential role stem cells play in the development and maturity of many organ systems including the central nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular, haematologic, immunologic and endocrine systems. They write:
“…the artificial loss of stem cells at birth could potentially impact later development and predispose infants to diseases such as chronic lung disease, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, infection and neoplasm” (Tolosa et al., 2010).
Thus, a simple delay in cord clamping may permit an inborn stem cell therapy that can “promote acute benefits in the case of neonatal disease, as well as long-term benefits against age-related diseases” (Tolosa et al., 2010). It is possible that the greatest health benefit to a newborn when we delay clamping the cord may come from the increased volume of stem cells whose value we are only starting to understand.
Aside from a healthier baby, there are benefits for the mother as well. Allowing the placental blood to drain has been shown to help the placenta detach in a timely and uncomplicated manner (Soltani et al., 2005; Jongkolsiri & Manotaya, 2009).
It makes no sense that this valuable secondary source of oxygen for your baby’s first minutes, important iron for your child’s first months and miraculous stem cells whose impact may last a lifetime, end up in the medical waste bin. This good blood belongs to your baby. Make sure your child receives it.