SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, news release, June 29, 2015
TUESDAY, June 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Gently massaging the umbilical cords of preterm infants delivered by C-section may improve their blood pressure, boost blood flow and increase levels of red blood cells, a new study finds.
Researchers suggest this technique could offer these preemies greater health benefits than the current method of delaying cord clamping for up to one minute after delivery.
"The study results are very encouraging," Dr. Tonse Raju, chief of The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch, said in an agency news release. "The findings need to be confirmed in a larger number of births, but at this point, it appears that umbilical cord milking may prove to be of great benefit to preterm infants delivered via cesarean."
The study involved 197 infants born at or before 32 weeks. Of these infants, 154 were delivered via C-section. Researchers at the Neonatal Research Institute at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns in San Diego and Loma Linda University in California divided the babies into two groups and randomly assigned them to receive either delayed cord clamping or umbilical cord milking.
Cord milking involves massaging the umbilical cord with the thumb and forefingers to slowly push blood through the cord into an infant's belly. This technique increases blood flow from the cord into an infant's circulatory system.
The 43 infants delivered vaginally were also randomly assigned to receive either delayed clamping or cord milking.
Among the preterm babies born via C-section, those in the cord milking group had greater blood flow between the brain and the heart. These babies also had increased blood flow from their heart, and higher blood pressure and more red blood cells, the study published online June 29 in the journal Pediatrics revealed.
But cord milking was no more beneficial than delayed cord clamping among preterm infants born vaginally.
In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended a 30- to 60-second delay before clamping the umbilical cord in all preterm deliveries. This is supposed to allow blood from the umbilical cord to fill the blood vessels in the infant's lungs, Raju said. It can help prevent bleeding in the brain among preterm infants, which can cause developmental delays, cerebral palsy or even death.
Some studies, however, show delayed cord clamping doesn't reduce bleeding among some preterm infants delivered by C-section. Anesthetics used during these deliveries eases contractions of the uterus, which may prevent blood from flowing from the umbilical cord, the researchers explained.
Cord milking could help offset this reduced blood flow and increase infants' blood volume, they noted.
The March of Dimes provides more information on premature babies.