In adult lives, timing is often crucial, so imagine how significant mere moments can be in a life that’s just begun. A simple two-minute delay in cutting the umbilical cord, a recent study published in Pediatrics finds, may lead to better development during the first days of a newborn baby’s life.

“The results suggest a beneficial effect of late cord clamping, produced by an increase in antioxidant capacity and moderation of the inflammatory-mediated effects induced during delivery of term neonates,” wrote the University of Granada researchers.

The umbilical cord, which is about 20 inches long on average, connects a baby in the womb to its mother. The cord carries oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s bloodstream to her baby, and it runs from an opening in a baby’s stomach to the placenta. Soon after birth, the cord must be clamped at two points, and then cut in the middle, a painless procedure for both mother and child as there are no nerves in this life-sustaining cord.

While clamping and cutting the cord is not a matter of debate, what has been argued for some time is when it is best to cut the cord, with some doctors saying sooner, others later. After all, the baby still is receiving nutrients from the placenta until the very moment this connection to the mother is severed. In fact, at one minute after birth, studies have demonstrated about 80 ml (about 2.7 ounces) of blood may be transmitted from mother to baby, whereas at three minutes, the total amount increases to about 100 ml (about 3.4 ounces). Naturally, these additional volumes of blood (and the nutrients it contains) could influence health profoundly in a body so small… or so the thinking goes. This, then, is the very issue researchers at the University of Granada decided to investigate.

2-Minute Delay

For the study, conducted at the Physiology, Obstetrics and Gynecology Departments, the researchers worked with a group of 64 healthy pregnant women who went into labor at the San Cecilio Clinical Hospital. All the mothers experienced a normal pregnancy and spontaneous vaginal delivery. Hospital attendants cut the umbilical cords of half the newborns’ just 10 seconds after delivery, while cutting the cords of the other half following a two-minute delay.

The researchers found significantly greater erythrocyte catalase activity, which protects against oxidative stress and so an infant’s detoxifying capabilities, in the late-clamped group than in the early-clamped group. Additionally, the amount of superoxide dismutase — a powerful natural antioxidant enzyme — and total antioxidants were significantly higher in the late-clamped group compared with the early-clamped group. The results suggest a delay, by just two minutes, before cutting the cord will benefit a newborn baby's development.

Source: Díaz-Castro J, Florido J, Kajarabille N, et al. The Timing of Cord Clamping and Oxidative Stress in Term Newborns. Pediatrics. 2014.