What would animals do?

by Christina on November 20, 2011

The other day we had grand rounds (combined with peds, OB, and the midwifery service) on the topic of delayed cord clamping during labor. Should doctors cut the cord immediately or let it pulse for >30 seconds? It’s a pretty a controversial topic.

The speaker began by posing this question: What do other animals do?

What a refreshing question! I wish we asked it more often.

The speaker went on to talk about how giraffes’ umbilical cords will naturally break within about 30 seconds, and how lambs will eventually chew through the cord or allow it to break naturally.

Cutting and clamping immediately is a human invention. It is something that our doctors have evolved to do, and many are now starting the process of un-learning it.

Check out this video:

(those are some pretty resilient little giraffe babies, no?!)

This sparked some good discussion. Recent studies have shown benefits of delayed cord clamping including better blood pressures and volume regulation, less anemia, fewer blood transfusions, fewer brain hemorrhages, and fewer incidents of infection. Cord blood is also full of stem cells, and  scientists have called this “mankind’s first natural stem cell transplant.”

Downsides include delayed passage of baby to the pediatrician for resuscitation and stabilization, and elevated red blood cell and bilirubin levels in the baby.

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day details of what we do in clinical medicine. This question reminds us to step back and look at the big picture, and to ask why we do what we do.

Sometimes the answer may lie in going back to nature, from which we have become terribly disconnected, and re-learn from fellow animals.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Palmer November 20, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Beautiful. So wise.
The question of the pros and cons of cutting and clamping a baby’s umbilical cord had never occured to me before.
I wonder how many more of our routine actions need to be questioned and perhaps unlearned?

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John November 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm

trying to be as natural as possible, my daughter was delivered at home and I had the opportunity to cut her umbilical cord. The cord is very strong and resistant to being cut, so I wondered afterwards what would be a more natural way. I asked my very traditional Navajo spiriitual elder, a seventh generation medicine man, how they “did it” and he said that they would bundle the placenta in a blanket with the baby and it would fall off naturally in a few days.

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Kimberly Palmer November 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I was curious, did you talk about the application for c-section births as well or is this just for vaginal births? Is it possible to delay cord clamping for c-section births?
Also, what about for those who want to store stem cells? Are you able to delay cord cutting and store the stem cells, or do you have to choose? What would you recommend to patients?

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Christina December 1, 2011 at 12:04 am

Yes it’s definitely possible in c-sections – the OB simply waits to cut the cord. However, it of course will depend on why the person is having a c-section: if there is something concerning with the baby then they may want to cut the cord immediately and get the baby to pediatricians for resuscitation if needed.

Not sure about how storing the stem cells works in all of this… I’ll have to look into that.

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