The umbilical cord is the thick, blood-rich cord that connects the baby to its mother. One end of the cord is attached to the baby's navel, and the other end is connected to the mother's placenta, a kidney-shaped organ in the womb that provides the fetus with blood that is rich in oxygen and nutrients. After the baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut. Cutting the umbilical cord can be considered a wonderfully symbolic gesture of the newborn's newly independent life outside of the womb. Safety, sterility and timing are the best tips for safely cutting an umbilical cord.
Safety comes first when cutting an umbilical cord. The cord is very thick, containing one or two arteries and one vein that are surrounded by viscous jelly. A very sharp cutting implement is required for a clean cut that does not pull on the placenta or the baby's sensitive navel. After birth, an umbilical cord clamp is placed on either side of the incision to guide the scissors. To prevent infection, only sterile instruments are used for the procedure.
The timing of when to cut the umbilical cord has an effect on the infant. Traditionally, doctors cut the umbilical cord almost immediately after birth. Studies show that delaying the cord clamping and cutting until after the cord stops pulsing provides numerous health benefits to the baby.
Cord blood contains stem cells, non-specialized cells that self-regenerate and develop into other cells. Delayed cutting also provides additional blood from the placenta to the baby. The blood supplies extra hemoglobin that helps prevent anemia, which is a common ailment among newborns.
Cutting an umbilical cord should never be delayed in cases of infant distress. Prematurely born babies, babies who have respiratory problems or babies who require immediate medical attention might suffer from medical inattention if cord-cutting is delayed. The best tip for cutting an umbilical cord in such a case is weighing the benefits versus the disadvantages. Babies who require immediate medical attention must be have the cord cut quickly to receive treatment.
For most births, the umbilical cord is cut in a convenient location, usually halfway down the cord. After the infant has been detached from the placenta, the medical professional cuts the cord closer to the baby's navel. The umbilical cord stump usually remains attached to the newborn's navel for at least one week, until the stump dries and falls off. The umbilical cord contains no nerves, so the baby feels no pain. Parents usually are instructed to keep the area clean to avoid infection until the navel has healed.