Swedish researchers have associated delayed clamping of a newborn’s umbilical cord with higher social and fine-motor skills in preschool boys. The findings, published today in JAMA Pediatrics, are of particular interest to those in the autism community who have suspected premature cord clamping as causing or contributing to the condition.
“This new study provides preliminary but interesting evidence that delaying cord clamping can improve aspects of child development, though it didn’t look specifically at autism symptoms,” comments developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, Autism Speaks head of medical research.
In previous research, the Swedish investigators linked early cord clamping (within 10 seconds of delivery) to iron deficiency in infants. Iron deficiency, in turn, has long been associated with poor behavioral, motor and intellectual development in children. Since then, the World Health Organization and other medical groups have recommended delayed cord clamping as a general practice. But obstetricians continue to vary in their practices.
More than a century ago, immediate cord clamping became common with the idea that it would reduce the risk of maternal bleeding and, more recently, that it would prevent infant jaundice (high bilirubin). But studies have since shown that it does neither.
“Delaying cord-clamping by just a few minutes gives infants a small transfusion of their own blood,” Dr. Wang explains. “This is helpful because many infants, especially in the developing world, have low iron, and iron is critical for child development.”
In their new investigation, the researchers followed up on the 600 infants from their earlier study when the children reached age 4. They were able to complete developmental assessments and parent questionnaires on 263. Of these, 141 had cord clamping delayed by 3 minutes or more after birth. The other 122 had cord clamping within 10 seconds of delivery.