Brain Damage and Immediate Cord Clamping

In birth injury cases, a lack of oxygen is the most common cause of damage to an infant‘s brain. Oxygen deprivation can come in the form of asphyxia, a blockage to the airways, or hypoxia, a blockage of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. While a lack of oxygen can occur for many reasons, one cause may be due to a common medical practice: immediate cord clamping (ICC).

ICC generally occurs right after an infant‘s delivery. The umbilical cord that unites mother and child is clamped then cut, typically within 30 seconds after the baby has emerged. The process is thought to prevent hemorrhaging in the mother and allow the infant to be quickly transferred to a resuscitation station for further evaluation.

Recent studies suggest that clamping and/or cutting the cord too soon may lead to massive blood loss into the placenta. This reduces the nutrient-rich blood and oxygen supply a child needs when taking its first breaths.

Certain infants are more susceptible to problems from this decrease in oxygen and blood, leading to a possibility of brain hemorrhage or breathing difficulties. Both of these risks can result in brain damage and a wide range of long-term disabilities.

Some experts, including the World Health Organization, recommend that three minutes should pass before cutting the umbilical cord. This will allow blood from the placenta to flow to and nourish the newborn, while the baby establishes a proper breathing pattern and starts to depend on its own bodily systems. It is advised that all signs of pulsation within the cord should cease before the cord is clamped and cut.

Experts believe the amount of blood transferred through the cord may amount to 30-50% of an infant‘s eventual blood volume. Studies show that infants have a built-in reflex system that will shut off the flow of blood from the cord once they have received the optimal amount. And, this nutrient-rich blood could impact the health of the infant long past birth, reducing the chance of iron deficiency in children as old as 8 months.

Traditional treatment of an infant displaying a lack of oxygen has been to re-oxygenate their systems. Unfortunately, they may be in need of blood volume replacement instead, something that is typically not addressed. Interestingly, rates of oxygen deprivation are much lower in deliveries involving professional midwives. Often, midwives delay the cutting of the umbilical cord until delivery of the placenta.

Dr. George Morley, MB, ChB, FACOG, a board certified OB/GYN states emphatically that “Perinatal and neonatal care is less successful in saving brains than saving lives.” He also believes that the cause of oxygen deprivation in newborns has been misdiagnosed, leading to no real decline in cerebral palsy rates, despite intensive interventions.

While this is just one theory involving infant brain damage, expectant parent should discuss ICC with their medical providers. Many physicians may simply be following current trends in obstetric medicine by practicing ICC, without being fully aware of the possible risks this procedure may present.

If your baby has suffered a birth injury, including brain injury, it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away. There are unique medical malpractice statutes of limitation and other deadlines.


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