Umbilical Cord Integrity

I’ve written before on this blog about the wonderful tether that keeps a baby close to his/her mother after birth.  Here are some more ideas about preserving the sanctity of the umbilical cord and being respectful of the hours after birth.

The balancing of blood for the newborn takes some time.

The balancing of blood for the newborn takes some time.

Here are some of the thoughts and ideas I have gleaned over the years about leaving the umbilical cord intact until, at least, the placenta is birthed (extended delayed cord clamping) or not cutting it at all (lotus birth).
1.  Leaving the cord to pulse does “no harm” and therefore should be encouraged. If you think
about what Nature intended, our ancestors way back before scissors and clamps were invented must have had to wait to deal with the cord/placenta at least until the placenta was birthed. They probably chewed it, ground it with rocks, or burned it through with hot sticks from the fire. Plastic umbilical cord clamps have little teeth that clamp onto the cord to quell bleeding (see photo), but they are a relatively recent invention so our very early ancestors probably chewed or traumatized the cord in some way.  That could only have been done with the placenta out of the mother.


2.  Leaving the cord alone slows down the “fire drill” energy that many birth attendants get into after the baby is born. Leaving off the busyness of midwifery for a half hour allows the mother and baby undisturbed bonding time without a “project” going on i.e. the cord cutting instructions, explanations, jokes, etc. Thus, the father, too, is undisturbed and able to enjoy this “high” time without focusing on a job at hand.

 3.  Preventing brain lesions in the newborn baby. Educator Joseph Chilton Pierce in his book “Magical Child” makes reference to studies that were done on primates who gave birth in captivity and had early cord clamping. Autopsies of the primates showed that early cord clamping produced unusual lesions in the brains of the animals.
These same lesions were also found in the brains of human infants when autopsied.

 4.  In Rh negative women, many people believe that it is the clamping of a pulsing cord that causes the blood of the baby to transfuse into the blood stream of the mother causing sensitization problems.
Robert S.  Mendelsohn, M.D., in his book “How to Have a Healthy Child. . . In Spite of Your Doctor” blames the whole Rh negative problem on too quick clamping of the cord. Especially in Rh negative mothers, I urge midwives to wait until the placenta is out before thinking about cord clamping.

  5.  I think it is interesting that scientists are now discovering that umbilical cord blood is full of valuable T-cells which have cancer fighting properties. A whole industry has sprung up to have this precious blood extracted from the placenta, put in a cooler with dry ice, and taken to a special storage facility to be ready in case the child gets cancer at some time in the future. This is human insanity of the first order. That blood is designed by Nature to go into that child’s body at birth, not 30 yrs later! We need to acknowledge that there are things about the newborn circulation and blood composition that we just don’t know and we can bet that Mother Nature had things figured out pretty well for us to survive this long.

Something to think about:  Maybe the supposed need for Vitamin K in the newborn comes out of early cord clamping?  In my birth work (+1000 births) and practice of extended-delayed umbilical cord care, I have only given Vitamin K to one baby (on Day 8 after having a little blood on his diaper from the umbilicus every day < l tsp.--it was probably unnecessary). I have only had one Rh negative woman who showed fetal cells in her blood (she had had a bad fall 2
days prior to birth).
We have waited hours before cutting the cord and many couples never do cut it (they just carry baby, cord and placenta around together for days).

This is called Lotus Birthing and midwife Jeanine Parvati Baker popularized the
method. The nice thing is that it really limits the postpartum visitors list and keeps the new mother close to her bed!

If a baby needs resuscitation, it is important to leave the cord and do all work on Mom’s body. Cutting the back up oxygen supply doesn’t make any sense at all.

(The only time I cut a cord before the placenta comes out is if I have a mother in a water tub and I’m specifically worried about maternal blood loss. Then you want to get both out onto a dry surface quickly and sometimes it’s easier to
hand baby over to an adult while Mom is lifted separately.  This would be a very rare occurrence).

Delayed cord clamping reduces the risk of feto-maternal transfusion, which is especially important for Rh negative mothers (Lapido, 1971; Rogers et al, 1998)

Added Jan 14, 2013 : Quote from British midwife, Mary Hall: “I have been a midwife for 32 years and have known at a deep level that putting a clamp on and cutting something (the umbilical cord) erect and pulsating vigorously was intrinsically wrong; it’s satisfying to see the evidence at last. Home births are physiological (that’s hard-core science, ahem), including cord management- -listen to the baby. There is only a very brief moment in time to make a decision that may impact on the infant for the next 70 years.”

22 thoughts on “Umbilical Cord Integrity

  1. Hi Gloria,
    Thank you so much for your great blog and website. I love the ideas behind the practice of Lotus birth. Thank you for sharing this practice with the world and for working to support babies’ rights. 🙂
    Much love to you.

  2. I always like to remind moms to focus on the timing of cord *clamping* not cord *cutting* – you used the proper terminology, but in my naivete with my first birth, I assumed that clamping happened only when you were ready to cut. We’d asked our OB to do delayed cutting – but it turned out the OB clamped in haste and let us cut at leisure. Not entirely what we were after! Of course even better would be to work with a provider who’s on the same wavelength as you from the start!

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  4. Once again, thank you for your wisdom, I have always thought that there is more to the maternal/fetal/baby circulatory system than we have observed or “understand”. Leave it alone and let it do whatever it needs to do until it is done.

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  6. I’d be very interested in following up the original references you make about primate brain injury. Can you direct me to the references? thanks

  7. Susan, that would be great. I read this in a book by Joseph Chilton Pierce called “Magical Child”. I think that I looked, at one point, to see if he had a footnote and he didn’t. He is still alive so you might be able to contact him. Please let me know if you are able to provide the reference.

  8. I do very extended delayed cord clamping, at least two hours after the birth of the placenta. I’ve seen a cord pulse for over two hours with the placenta on the outside. during that time, baby changed from this funny grayish color to a beautiful pink homeborn baby. When I talk to clients about it, I talk about amputating the placenta! When they understand that the placenta and cord and all the blood all belong to the baby, they are fine with waiting to amputate until the cord has shut down physiologically. Clamping and cutting sound so mundane, not a big deal at all. Amputation is a little more drastic and gives a bit more acknowledgement to the importance of the placenta to the baby.

    • I love your examination of the language, Cindy, and that is something I am going to adopt “When shall we amputate the placenta”. Thanks for your contribution.

  9. Recently I was listening to a podcast, and one of the speakers mentioned the pressure of the blood volume from the placenta directly after birth, and the role it plays on the lungs – being erectile tissue!

    I had never heard of such a thing, but it makes perfect sense, the sudden increase blood volume in the body fills the essential organs and helps the lungs open. She was mentioning this is so very crucial in pre-term infants (getting the lungs to open) and sadly, because of third stage management in those infants, placenta blood is rarely given to the baby.

    Have you heard of this before, specifically the erectile tissue and the lungs opening process? Can you shed more light on this?

  10. I know the average risk of isoimmunization in Rh negative moms in typical research, but is there research indicating the risk of isoimmunization in moms experiencing delayed clamp/cut and physiological third stage?

    • If there is one I would be happy to participate, I did Lotus births and did become isoimmunized then went on to have a healthy baby (and did Lotus birth with that baby against medical protocols). Please share if you find research being done. In my experience it’s such a rare dis-ease that there isn’t research happening.

  11. Thank you for being an advocate of cord integrity! I am looking forward to respecting and honoring my baby’s relationship with the placenta, the most amazing organ in the world! by not cutting or clamping the cord until long after birth and it intuitively feels right.

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  16. Hey Gloria, Can you send me more information on not cutting the cord if resuscitation had to happen. My midwife has almost threatened me or so it sounded that if they need to resuscitate the cord WILL be cut.
    I said “well why can you resusitate with cord connected she said “well only if it was long enough” I dont really trust her that if the cord is long enough and this had to happen she would do it.” I’d like to show her some research so she will respect my decision at least and know by not cutting during resusitation is not putting my child in danger.

    • The most well known midwifery teacher of Neonatal Resuscitation in North America is Karen Strange of Colorado. I’ve taken her course. She says “keep the cord intact”. It makes perfect sense. Why would your midwife cut off the blood circulation to a baby who is having difficulty?

  17. My obstetrician insisted that the cord would have to be cut (no mention of length) if resuscitation was required – according to him, resuscitation must take place on a solid flat surface (ie anywhere but on his mother as I had stated I wished if necessary). I had to argue with my midwife who wished to take my (normal, breathing, and pinking-up nicely) baby away “for a whiff of oxygen” that she not cut his cord (“sorry dear, he’s getting one from his intact cord”) and remove him. I so wish my colleagues would develop some common (not so common) sense about these things!

  18. I had Lotus Births with two of my children after reading about it in Joseph Hilton Pearce’s book. Sarah J. Buckley, MD (Australia) is also a huge advocate of Lotus Birth.

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