Cai Xia Guo with her first child, Candy, as the umbilical cord is cut minutes after her birth on Friday. Photo: Meredith O'Shea
Clamping the umbilical cord too soon after birth could reduce the amount of blood that passes from mother to baby via the placenta, affecting the baby's iron stores and birth weight.
The findings of the international review led by La Trobe University are in conflict with the standard practice in many Western countries of clamping and cutting the umbilical cord within a minute of birth.
Published by the Cochrane Collaboration, the new analysis found that newborns that experienced clamping more than a minute after birth had higher haemoglobin levels one to two days later and were also less likely to be iron-deficient three to six months after birth. Birth weight was also about 90 grams greater with delayed cord clamping, which could provide newborns with an extra 50 to 100 millilitres of blood.
Happy and healthy: Cai Xia Guo's daughter, Candy.Photo: Meredith O'Shea
''There is much stronger evidence to suggest that delayed cord clamping following a normal-term birth is beneficial,'' said lead author Susan McDonald from La Trobe University and the Mercy Hospital for Women. ''You really don't need to get too excited about clamping the cord within 30 seconds, in fact you will probably do everyone a favour by waiting a minute.''
Cai Xia Guo, 23, delivered her first child, Candy, at the Mercy Hospital for Women in Heidelberg at 4.03pm on Friday. Weighing 3.56 kilograms, her daughter was placed on Mrs Guo's chest before the umbilical cord was clamped at 4.07pm. ''I am very happy,'' Mrs Guo said. ''She is healthy.''
The findings are based on reviews of 15 international trials involving almost 4000 full-term, natural births in countries including Australia, Sweden, Mexico and Canada.
The results back up the World Health Organisation's recommendation to clamp the cord between one and three minutes after birth.
Pervious Cochrane reviews have indicated the health benefits of later cord clamping also applies to premature babies.
However, Professor McDonald said there was a balance to be struck. She said cord clamping carried out more than a minute after birth increased the risk of jaundice by about 2 per cent.
Treated by light therapy, jaundice is not a threatening condition in newborns. However, while treatment is available in Western countries, this was not always the case in developing countries and the timing of cord clamping should take local conditions into account.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Michael Permezel said there were benefits and risks associated with delayed clamping. He said decisions should be made based on each case's circumstances.
Situations where delayed cord clamping wasn't appropriate included when the mother was either at risk of or was haemorrhaging or if the baby needed resuscitation.
''The bottom line is that the mother should know that the person delivering the baby will make a decision on the circumstances at the time,'' Professor Permezel said. ''It would be completely wrong to conclude that delayed cord clamping is now the advised treatment.''
He said the increased risk of jaundice, though not a serious condition, was not to be taken lightly.
''Two per cent is one in 50 births, so it is not an insignificant issue,'' he said.