The Umbilical Cord and Your Options

The umbilical cord is a beautiful and blood-filled artery from the placenta to the baby. This artery is your baby’s life source throughout pregnancy. The umbilical cord is made up of three vessels: two umbilical arteries and one umbilical vein which are held together with Wharton’s Jelly. These vessels work together to perfectly balance the baby’s nutrients and blood levels. The vein brings oxygen rich blood and nutrients from the mother to the baby. The arteries carry deoxygenated blood and wastes such125889-279x300 as carbon dioxide from the baby to the mother. The mother expels these wastes from her body the same ways her own wastes leave her body (i.e. breathing, tears, using the washroom etc.); the mother’s and baby’s bodies are in constant harmony with one another.

Once the baby is born the arteries constrict to prevent too much blood flow from the baby back into the placenta, leaving the oxygen rich blood to flow through the vein to the baby. The cord will go from a coiled blue state to a flattened pale yellow as blood leaves the placenta to the baby. Once the cord is flat and yellow, blood transfer between the placenta and the baby has finished. There are no nerves in the umbilical cord, so the baby does not feel any sensations from cutting or burning the cord.

Many parents think the only option for their baby’s cord is to cut it, but there are so many more options available to them. Here is a list of the most common options for the umbilical cord, any information regarding the placenta only (i.e. encapsulation, cooking, placenta art etc.) is not included in this article, but I will link to it once the post is available.

Instant Cord Clamping

Instant cord clamping refers to immediate cutting of the cord within one minute of the baby’s birth. Instant cord clamping is becoming less common the more we learn about the importance of cord blood and delayed clamping, but some hospitals still use this as common practice.

Delayed Cord Clamping

Delayed clamping (Also known as “Optimal Cord Clamping”) can occur anywhere between 2 minutes after the birth of the baby up to 2 hours. Currently there is debate about what is considered a “safe” amount of time to limit cord clamping. Most medical articles claim that the cord should be cut at most anywhere between 30 minutes to either 45 minutes or an hour (depending on the article/study). Often midwives will leave the cord attached until the cord flattens and turns yellow before cutting. Delayed cord clamping is slowly becoming standard in medical practice and is now also offered for caesarean births in some hospitals (Victoria General Hospital does do delayed clamping for caesarean births). Delaying cord clamping has the benefits of the baby receiving all the placental blood for iron and nutrients. Receiving optimal levels of blood help to prevent anemia, the need for blood transfusions, and higher oxygen levels. To learn more about the benefits of delayed cord clamping, watch Dr. Alan Greene on TED talks.

Cord Burning

Cord burning is an alternative method to cutting. Cutting the cord is such a quick moment and some parents find it to be too sudden. When burning the cord, mothers are given the time to realize that their baby will no longer be resting in their womb and they are able to welcome their baby as a separate being from the mother. Burning only takes about 5-10 minutes to do, but that time is plenty for mothers and their partners to transition into parents for their little one. Very few supplies are needed for this practice, one or two candles and a piece of cardboard with tinfoil to block heat from going between the candle and the baby.

To learn more about the process of cord burning, check out this article from Birth Takes a Village.

Lotus Birth

Lotus birth is not seen very often, especially in North American culture, but it is still an option for some to consider. The process does not involve any augmented removal of the cord from the baby but instead allows the cord to fall off naturally. The mother carries the placenta around with her while it is still attached to her baby, so it’s similar to carrying two babies (except one is a small baby). The cord will naturally dry up and separate around 3-5 days. Some mothers will use mixtures of salts, oils, and spices to help dry the placenta. More often than not, placentas with lotus births cannot be used later for encapsulation or consumption but it is possible as long as they are kept cool. Here is an excerpt from Gloria Lemay’s webpage to prepare a lotus birth for encapsulation:

“LOTUS Birth with PLACENTOPHAGY:  buy a new thermal lunch bag with a zipper closing around the top.  Buy six freezer cold packs that will fit well into the thermal lunch bag.  Have two packs in the freezer at all times.  Soon after the placenta is birthed, create a little mini-fridge for it by putting one frozen pack on the bottom of the bag, then the placenta, then the second frozen pack and, then, do up the zipper with just the cord coming out of the corner of the zipped up bag. As soon as the cord separates (typically day 4 or 5), dehydrate and encapsulate the red, meaty parts from the maternal side of the placenta.  You’ll know the placenta has been kept fresh by the smell i.e. it should smell like fresh meat.”

A half lotus birth is more common, when a mother will leave the cord intact for 3+ hours then cut or burn it. An example of this being done would be mothers who birth in the hospital and want to bring their placenta home with them to burn the cord.

Clips vs. Ties

There is no real health benefit or difference between clips or cord ties, parents prefer one over the other mainly for aesthetics, cost, or convenience. Cord ties are braided or crocheted pieces of high quality yarn/thread made for umbilical cords. Clips are standard among doctors and most midwives, but ties are allowed if you provide your own. Since ties are made with yarn, they are a lot softer and do not rub on the baby’s skin. As well they are less bulky and make feedings, cuddling, and diaper changings easier. Some parents claim that a tie causes their baby’s umbilical cord to dry up and fall off faster (3-4 days) than a clip, but there is no evidence or studies to prove this.


Looking into purchasing cord ties? This lovely lady here sells them and loves personalizations!


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