Delayed cord clamping could be a life-saver for newborns

cesarean - section birth photo

Australian babies are part of a study to test if delayed cord clamping can help newborns who aren’t breathing at birth. It has the potential to change the way babies are delivered around the world and could save lives.

Babies who are born not breathing are usually whisked off to be resuscitated, which means they are detached from the umbilical cord. The new trial will see babies who aren’t breathing remain attached to the cord, and therefore the placenta which has a natural supply of blood and oxygen.

Melbourne babies part of the trial

The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne heads up the study, which will recruit about 1000 babies born after 32 weeks of gestation to be part of the trial. Doctors will randomise the babies so that half will stay connected to the umbilical cord for up to five minutes while they transition to breathing.

The animal trial has had promising results, and researchers are now keen to see if it translates to human babies.

“In animal studies, we saw that if we helped the offspring breathe while still being attached by the umbilical cord, the oxygen levels were better, including more oxygen getting to the brain resulting in less injury,” explained Dr Doug Blank.

Watch: baby left attached after being born not breathing

One in 10 babies fails to spontaneously breathe at birth – including Darcy Tucker. But he was left attached to his mum Lauren while paediatricians worked to resuscitate him, and Dr Blank monitored his heart rate with an ultrasound. It took one minute and 40 seconds for him to start breathing – the incredible moments were captured on the video below.

“The placenta is the baby’s lung until after birth, when baby starts to breathe air. While the baby is in the womb, the placenta provides everything a baby needs including oxygen. It seems logical that babies should remain attached via the umbilical cord for a few minutes after birth until they are breathing well enough on their own to provide their body with the oxygen they need,” Dr Blank said.

“Failing to breathe after birth kills more than 800,000 babies worldwide every year. Most of the babies that die are born in poor countries, but most of those babies are born at full term and are otherwise completely healthy. We want to change that. We think that we can improve how we help babies breathe after birth. This technique, if it works, can be used in virtually any setting,” Dr Blank said.

The researchers will keep a close eye on the baby’s vital signs to decided when they should cut the umbilical cord, rather than specifying an amount of time. Anyone who wants to be a part of the trial can register their interest at the antenatal appointments at the Royal Women’s Hospital and Monash Medical Centre.

Make sure you take a look at the incredible video detailing the birth ritual of cord burning.