By Ángela Funez
I’ve always been interested in innovations that can change people’s lives. I love learning about things like using smartphones to perform electrocardiograms and send the results automatically to your doctor, or about breakthroughs in the Human Genome Project. I usually think such innovations can only come from brilliant people, scientists or Nobel Prize winners.
On a recent mission with the Salud Mesoamerica 2015 Initiative, I heard health officials in Guatemala and Chiapas gush about a protocol to promote delayed cord clamping at health centers in communities participating in SM2015. I was filled with curiosity, as I had never heard of that concept.
As they explained it to me, The World Health Organization recommends that, instead of cutting the umbilical cord as soon as the baby is born (in the first 60 seconds), it’s better to wait three minutes or until the pulses cease. I had no idea the cord remained “alive” and that such a brief delay could generate great benefits for the newborn.
I later read an article on delayed clamping from The Lancet that IDB health specialist, Frederico Guanais gave me. This simple procedure allows blood to continue flowing between the placenta and the newborn, significantly increasing its hemoglobin and iron levels. Delayed clamping reduces the risk of anemia in the first 3 to 6 months of the baby’s life. In addition, it’s associated with a 39% reduction in the need for blood transfusions in premature babies and lessens the risk of postpartum complications.
According to another article in the New York Times, the transfer of blood in those three minutes equals up to 40% of all the newborn’s blood. Amazing! Also, delayed clamping does NOT increase the risk of hemorrhaging in the mother, a misconception on the part of doctors who believe the cord must be cut immediately. However, if clamping is delayed for too long, there’s a risk the infant will require treatment for jaundice.
How many of you knew that the iron reserves a baby will have for the first six months of life are obtained during pregnancy? Ana Pérez, another IDB specialist, pointed out that if mothers are anemic during pregnancy – as is often the case in poor households – their babies’ iron reserves will be insufficient, which will affect cognitive development and academic performance in the future. That’s why delayed clamping mainly benefits nursing babies in low-resource communities with limited access to iron-rich foods.
Why is such a simple and inexpensive procedure not better known and practiced? The fact that SM2015 is introducing it in several Mesoamerican countries is considered an innovation. In part, scientific evidence about its benefits is recent. And there’s never been a massive effort to disseminate it among health staff and to train them in the procedure.
This mission changed my perspective on innovations. Instead of being dazzled by complex scientific advances, now I get excited about great small innovations such as delayed clamping, so simple yet able to change so many lives.
Now it’s your turn: if you know a doctor, a public health official or an expecting mother, please share this blog post with them. Post it on your Facebook page and spread the word. This is really good news!
Ángela Funez is a senior communications specialist at the IDB’s Office of External Relations. Follow @angelafunez
This post was previously published at the IDB Blog Gente Saludable.