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You May Want to Wait to Cut the Umbilical Cord

For the baby's sake, don't cut that cord right away! A new study suggests delaying umbilical cord clamping by a few minutes can lead to health benefits for the child years later.

While the study showed no differences in IQ, children whose cords were cut more than three minutes after birth (versus those cut within 10 seconds) had slightly higher social skills and fine motor skills when they reached preschool. And when separated by sex, boys showed a statistically significant improvement. A previous study by the lead researcher also showed babies were 90 percent less likely than others to have iron-deficiency anemia when they were 4 months old (iron-deficiency occurs in about one in six American babies).

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Why? Iron is essential for healthy brain development. And for newborns born early and at term, this two- to three-minute delay allows them to receive more iron-rich blood from the placenta at birth. According to the study published in JAMA Pediatrics, it can increase the newborn's blood volume by 30 to 40 percent.

"The extra blood at birth helps the baby to cope better with the transition from life in the womb, where everything is provided for them by the placenta and the mother, to the outside world," said Dr. Heike Rabe, a neonatologist at Brighton & Sussex Medical School in the U.K and whose editorial accompanied the study. "Their lungs get more blood so that the exchange of oxygen into the blood can take place smoothly."

The World Health Organization recommends delaying clamping for at least one minute. Immediate clamping started about 70 years ago; doctors believed early clamping reduced the mom's risk of hemorrhaging, but research has shown no significant difference for the mom.

This is one of the first few studies that looks at healthy, full-term newborns in a country with high resources. And it is unclear if the practice could harm a baby's health. Some studies have found a higher risk of jaundice (which can be treated with blue light therapy and rarely has serious complications).

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So for Kjersti Aagaard, vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, the clamping decision should be made between the doctor and parents based on the circumstances. "The most important thing for parents to be talking with their provider about is how will we adapt to the delivery as it emerges," she said.

Image via Twenty20/alopezc72

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