Umbilical Cord Care

Delayed Cord Clamping: One practice that is very important during the birth of your newborn baby, is allowing the cord to remain intact until at least after it has stopped pulsating. When your baby is born, he or she is still attached to the umbilical cord, which means that nutrients and oxygen are still being transported through blood vessels in the mother’s uterus, through the placenta, and cord, and into the newborn’s body through the umbilicus. If the cord is cut too soon, when still pulsating, up to 50% of your baby’s rightful blood supply could be on the wrong side of the cut. In a physiologically normal birth, the intact cord provides crucial oxygenation while the baby adapts to extra-uterine life. This is a transition that takes a bit of time, and an intact cord provides what is needed while he/she crosses the threshold from water to air. Normally, there is a pause after the birth of the baby, and then the mother gets a uterine contraction, the placenta detaches from her uterine wall (at which point pulsation stops in the cord, signifying it is no longer being fed through her blood vessels), and the placenta is birthed.  Normally we will wait to cut the cord until at least after this process has taken place, or even until the newborn exam is performed, at around two hours postpartum.

Separation: When the cord is cut, a severance is taking place between the baby and the source he/she has known for all of the months spent in the womb. Often times a baby lets out a cry at the time of the cut, since there is a release occurring, though it doesn’t hurt physically. It is a major life event for the baby, and sometimes the father of the baby, or another family member will choose to cut the cord, making it an intentionally loving act.

Cord Burning: One option for another mindful and loving way to mark the ceremony of this severing is to burn the cord, rather than cutting it. The umbilicus is seen in the tradition of Chinese Medicine to be the entryway to all of the abdominal organs. Cord burning – which drives the last bit of blood into the abdomen, is energetically warming, and tonifies digestion, strengthens the newborn, promotes healing of the cord stump, and reduces the risk of bleeding and infection.

Cord burning is a practice that, in developing countries, can be life-saving where sterile instruments are not available, and infections such as tetanus are risky, since cauterizing the cord greatly reduces, if not totally eliminates, the chance of infection. (Here in the US of A we don’t commonly have to face that problem, obviously.) 

How is cord burning performed? The baby is lain on his or her side, the cord stretched out before him/her, and two (or more) long, taper-style candles are held against the cord. A basin is placed beneath it to catch the dripping wax, and the baby is protected by a foil-covered paper plate around the cord-site. The process takes about 10 minutes, as the fire burns through the cord completely. Sometimes there are occasional pops and hisses as the blood gasses escape, but the baby is protected from harm.

The stump that remains is usually a bit longer, but also generally falls off much more quickly than a cord which is clamped and cut-usually in about 3 days, as opposed to a week or longer, and with no cumbersome clamp.

Babies appear to really enjoy cord burning. I liken their demeanor during the ceremony to that of someone receiving acupuncture: peaceful, calm, still, alert, and centered. It takes longer than cutting, but this just gives us a chance to truly recognize and honor the once-in-a-lifetime, amazing process which is taking place.

If cord burning is an attractive option to you, mention it to me prenatally, and we will plan to do it at your birth!