Umbilical Cord

For some families, cutting the cord is an important ritual.  The father or sometimes an older child is often given this role and they cherish that involvement.

The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline to oxygen and nutrients while inside the mother.  It runs from an opening in your baby’s stomach to the placenta in the uterus. The average cord is about 20 inches long (50cm).

Oxygen and nutrients travel from the mother, through the placenta into your baby’s bloodstream.

The umbilical cord is made up of 1 vein (carries blood rich in oxygen and nutrients) and 2 arteries (returns the blood and waste products like carbon dioxide from the baby, back to the placenta, where it is filtered and reoxygenated and cleaned).

These blood vessels are enclosed and protected by a sticky material called Wharton’s jelly, which is within a layer of membrane called the amnion.

Towards the end of pregnancy, the placenta passes antibodies through the blood traveling through the umbilical cord from mother to baby. These provide the baby some degree of immunity from infections for about 3 months after birth. However, it only passes on antibodies the mother already has.

Many people consider clamping and cutting the cord to be an important step in the birth process.  In reality, it isn’t that important, as far as health safety in single births (not twins or more).  Below are some bullet points and links for more information about each step of the process.

The cord should be left until it has stopped pulsing at the very least, before being clamped and cut.

The blood inside the placenta belongs to the baby. Cutting off the supply through the cord before it has a chance to completely pump all of it into the baby reduces the baby’s blood supply, and those antibodies and nutrients the mother provides.

Your choices of how to handle the cord:

  1. Leave it alone to fall away naturally, known as Lotus Birth.
  2. Clamp and Cut
    1. There are many different types of commercial clamps. Plastic, metal (Haseltine), and rubber are all available through online suppliers and even Amazon.  If the clamp came in sterile packaging it should be stored unopened until used. Otherwise, it should be sterilized before use.  Positives – easy, fast, effective, and inexpensive. Negatives – unnatural material against baby’s skin, some are hard and get in the way.
  3. Tie and Cut
    1. Umbilical tape can be tied around the cord tightly.   Must be sterilized before use. Positives – soft against baby’s skin, natural material, inexpensive. Negatives – some providers may be uncomfortable with using the tape and feel it might not be effective
      1. Alternate Tie and Cut materials: dental tape, cotton yarn, embroidery floss.
  4. Other
    1.  Burning – this is a fairly new practice. After the cord has stopped pulsing and usually after the placenta has been birthed, the clamped cord is held over a candle flame until it cauterizes and burns through.
    2. Chewing – the mother chews through the cord, severing the connection.

There will be 2 clamps (or ties) and the cord will be cut between them. This prevents blood from the placenta from leaking out and causing a mess.

Where the cord is clamped and cut does not influence what the child’s navel (belly button) will look like.

There are no nerves in the cord so it doesn’t hurt the baby or mother when it is cut.

Between 5 and 15 days after the baby’s birth, the umbilical stump (the part still sticking out from the baby’s belly) will dry out, turn black and drop off. After the stump comes off, it usually takes about 7 to 10 days for the belly button to heal completely. Until the stump drops off and the belly button is completely healed, it’s important to keep the area clean and dry, to prevent infection.

Some people do nothing to the stump before it drops off. Others prefer to try and aid in the drying and healing of the stump.

  • Alcohol: doctors and experienced moms used to recommend a gentle swipe of alcohol across the cut end of the stump at every diaper change. Now some people believe it irritates the baby’s skin.  Baby’s don’t seem to react to the application of alcohol as if it hurts, but rather that it is cold.
  • Goldenseal and Echinacea: parents who use this natural method apply the dry and powdered herbs to the umbilical stump.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: wetted on a gauze or cotton ball. It isn’t necessary to saturate the area or to cause the bubbling action. Just use it as you would water.

Watch for signs of infection and call a care provider if any of these warning signs are noticed.

  • The base of the stump appears red or swollen
  • Continues to bleed -1 tablespoon or more is a huge amount to a newborn. Any blood more than a spot or two should be discussed with your care provider.
  • Oozes yellowish or white pus
  • Produces a foul-smelling discharge
  • Seems painful to your baby

When should you cut/tie the cord?

There is a lot of debate about this and women who birth in the hospital often feel frustrated with their doctor over the medical protocol for cutting the baby’s cord. In truth, there is no reason not to delay cutting the umbilical cord unless for some reason the baby needs medical intervention or resuscitation. Additionally, there are many reasons a newborn might benefit from waiting until the cord stops pulsing to cut it.  The following links refer to several studies.

Study confirms delayed cord clamping might be best for baby

Delayed Cord Clamping: What Are The Risks And Benefits?

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