Research shows that delayed cord clamping — or waiting to cut off the flow of blood from mother to newborn after delivery — improves health outcomes for babies by allowing red blood cells, stem cells, immune cells, blood volume and oxygen to be pumped back to the baby through the cord.
However, a recent delivery at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns sheds new light on the power of delayed cord clamping, and has the potential to change the way doctors approach the delivery of premature infants.
Dr. Anup Katheria, director of the Neonatal Research Institute (NRI) at Sharp Mary Birch, has been conducting a study on premature infants since late 2015. The study aims to accurately identify which babies may need further medical interventions immediately after birth to prevent or reduce brain damage.
When Dr. Katheria was notified that a pregnant mother, Lynet, was experiencing preterm labor at just 36 weeks into her pregnancy, he joined her and the infant’s father, Mike, along with the medical staff in the delivery room.
Baby Michael was unexpectedly born with the umbilical cord around his neck and was unable to breathe on his own. Dr. Katheria quickly moved into action with the attending obstetrician and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses to begin resuscitation efforts with Michael placed directly on his mother’s abdomen.
While current recommendations call for the umbilical cord to be immediately cut during such circumstances, Dr. Katheria has studied the effect of delayed cord clamping, which allows infants to receive additional cord blood at birth. He believed resuscitation would take no more than a few minutes; however, they worked with Michael to get him breathing on his own for a groundbreaking 12 minutes, all the while leaving the umbilical cord intact.
“We know babies who don’t breathe at birth are more likely to have brain damage or die,” says Dr. Katheria. “But current guidelines say that we should clamp the cord right away in these cases. If we can breathe for babies while they are connected to their moms, we may be able to prevent these negative outcomes.”
Dr. Katheria believes that delaying clamping of the cord for this long during resuscitation has never been attempted before.
“The exciting part is that we now know we can help babies breathe during delayed cord clamping in a very natural way, allowing them to properly bond during a very stressful time,” he says.
As expected, Lynet and Mike were concerned during the 12 minutes Dr. Katheria and his colleagues were working to resuscitate Michael, but they had heard about the benefits of delayed cord clamping. They didn’t know that cord clamping typically doesn’t happen in babies who need resuscitation at birth.
“Dr. Katheria explained the procedure and I had 100 percent faith in him,” says Mike. “I was able to see that our baby was responding well. I think they did a great job.”
In fact, Dr. Katheria’s efforts were so successful that Michael did not even need to be admitted into the NICU, a common occurrence for babies who are suffering from birth asphyxia (inability to breathe). Michael and his beaming parents were released from the hospital after just a few days and the family is now happily settling into their new routine with a healthy newborn.
“We want to make this a standard practice all over the world for infants who are born unable to breathe on their own,” says Dr. Katheria. “The goal is to take the sickest babies, give them the benefits of delayed cord clamping while helping them to breathe, and reduce the number of these babies admitted to the NICU.”
For the media: To talk with Dr. Katheria about this case and the benefits of delayed cord clamping, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.