Milking the benefits – umbilical cord clamping done safely

By Rob Clancy, staff writer. Reviewed by Professor Stuart Hooper AM

Safety concerns have been eased over a potentially life-saving method of umbilical cord clamping for newborn babies, thanks to research at Hudson Institute.

Dr Doug Blank, Professors Graeme Polglase and Stuart Hooper's study eases safety concerns for umbilical cord clamping
L-R: Dr Doug Blank, Professor Graeme Polglase, Professor Stuart Hooper

Umbilical cord milking is a technique that is frequently used to help provide additional blood to newborn babies before the cord is clamped and cut.

Professor Stuart Hooper works with Monash Children’s Hospital and Monash University on better ways to protect vulnerable newborns, especially those born preterm, who have trouble taking their first breaths.

Benefits umbilical cord clamping delay

His team has already established that delaying cord clamping can have beneficial effects on heart function and blood pressure, reducing the likelihood of damage to the brain and lungs.

“However, if clamping occurs too early, heart function markedly decreases and blood pressure rapidly increases,” Prof Hooper said.

“If cord clamping is delayed, the infant can also receive a beneficial blood transfusion from its placenta, but this can take a few minutes.”

Some clinicians believe the blood transfusion can be sped up by squeezing the umbilical cord and forcing blood to move from the placenta into the baby – a process called umbilical cord milking.

Research explains cord clamping blood pressure surge

“We have previously shown that umbilical cord milking at birth can cause large blood pressure surges that increase the risk of severe brain haemorrhage, particularly in very immature preterm infants; our latest study explains why.” Prof Hooper said

“It appears that after the infant starts breathing, the lungs can act as a ‘pressure release valve’ which greatly suppresses blood pressure surges caused by cord clamping or cord milking” he said.

“We have now shown that if cord milking occurs after the infant has had the opportunity to breathe, the blood pressure surges are greatly reduced, which lowers the risk of brain haemorrhage.”

With umbilical cord milking increasingly becoming common practise, Prof Hooper says these findings provide the scientific basis for the recent clinical recommendation that very immature preterm infants should not receive umbilical cord milking.

What is umbilical cord milking?

  • Umbilical cord milking is a procedure that involves squeezing or “milking” the umbilical cord after the baby is born. This is done to help transfer blood from the placenta to the baby.
  • The idea is that by increasing the amount of blood flow to the baby, it can help prevent the health issues that can result from oxygen starvation after birth.
  • However, it is not always recommended and should be discussed with a healthcare provider before considering it.

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