You are in the final moments; you’ve worked so hard, come so far.Your body urges you to push. You bear down, giving it your all; and, alas, you have delivered your precious baby.You soar with excitement and, in an instant, a profound relationship is born.
What happens next is the third stage of labor, the delivery of the placenta, and as you will see, Mother Nature has grand plans.
The naked baby is snuggled on the mother’s bare chest while the skin-to-skin contact regulates the baby’s temperature.The umbilical cord continues to pulse transferring all the cord and placenta blood to the baby, assisting with lung and organ function.Mom’s oxytocin levels, the love hormone, peaks during this part of labor.The baby begins to nurse, enhancing the maternal oxytocin levels, making the uterus contract and reducing the risk of hemorrhage.While the uterus contracts, the placenta gently separates.During this time, endorphins are responsible for giving the mother a feeling of euphoria and ecstasy, assisting with pain management.
In recent years, there has been a drastic increase in the medical management of the third stage. Intended to reduce the risk of complication and postpartum hemorrhage, the management of the third stage can contribute to the risks it was trying to avoid.
When the umbilical cord is clamped and severed immediately after birth, the baby can lose up to half of its blood volume, resulting in breathing problems, anemia, and other complications. Early cord clamping doesn’t allow the baby to receive the oxygen-rich blood which is supposed to support the baby until regular lung function is established.
The mother is given synthetic oxytocin to strengthen the uterine contractions which assist in the delivery of the placenta and reduces the risk of hemorrhage. The cord is clamped and cut, then pulled on, known as controlled cord traction, to aid in separation from the wall of the uterus. Controlled cord traction can also lead to a rare, but very serious condition called uterine inversion, in which the uterus is turned inside out.
During this entire process the baby is not near the mother, but instead receiving vaccinations and antibiotic eye ointment. At this time, the baby’s flight or fight hormones are dropping, and extended separation from the mother could result in psychological shock and could result in certain brain functions not being activated.
Of course, there are certainly emergent situations in which the third stage of labor must be managed medically. However, the benefits of delayed cord clamping and skin-to-skin contact are well documented. Whenever possible, allow Mother Nature to do what she does best. Get the well-deserved cuddle time, the reward of your labor, immediately after birth. Let your baby get the rich placenta blood it needs to establish well-functioning organs, and don’t forget to encapsulate!
Carmen Calvo, PES