Delayed vs early umbilical cord clamping for preterm infants: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Published:October 30, 2017DOI:


      The effects of delayed cord clamping of the umbilical cord in preterm infants are unclear.


      We sought to compare the effects of delayed vs early cord clamping on hospital mortality (primary outcome) and morbidity in preterm infants using Cochrane Collaboration neonatal review group methodology.

      Study Design

      We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and Chinese articles, cross-referencing citations, expert informants, and trial registries to July 31, 2017, for randomized controlled trials of delayed (≥30 seconds) vs early (<30 seconds) clamping in infants born <37 weeks’ gestation. Before searching the literature, we specified that trials estimated to have cord milking in >20% of infants in any arm would be ineligible. Two reviewers independently selected studies, assessed bias, and extracted data. Relative risk (ie, risk ratio), risk difference, and mean difference with 95% confidence intervals were assessed by fixed effects models, heterogeneity by I2 statistics, and the quality of evidence by Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations.


      Eighteen randomized controlled trials compared delayed vs early clamping in 2834 infants. Most infants allocated to have delayed clamping were assigned a delay of ≥60 seconds. Delayed clamping reduced hospital mortality (risk ratio, 0.68; 95% confidence interval, 0.52–0.90; risk difference, –0.03; 95% confidence interval, –0.05 to –0.01; P = .005; number needed to benefit, 33; 95% confidence interval, 20–100; Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations = high, with I2 = 0 indicating no heterogeneity). In 3 trials in 996 infants ≤28 weeks’ gestation, delayed clamping reduced hospital mortality (risk ratio, 0.70; 95% confidence interval, 0.51–0.95; risk difference, –0.05; 95% confidence interval, –0.09 to –0.01; P = .02, number needed to benefit, 20; 95% confidence interval, 11–100; I2 = 0). In subgroup analyses, delayed clamping reduced the incidence of low Apgar score at 1 minute, but not at 5 minutes, and did not reduce the incidence of intubation for resuscitation, admission temperature, mechanical ventilation, intraventricular hemorrhage, brain injury, chronic lung disease, patent ductus arteriosus, necrotizing enterocolitis, late onset sepsis or retinopathy of prematurity. Delayed clamping increased peak hematocrit by 2.73 percentage points (95% confidence interval, 1.94–3.52; P < .00001) and reduced the proportion of infants having blood transfusion by 10% (95% confidence interval, 6–13%; P < .00001). Potential harms of delayed clamping included polycythemia and hyperbilirubinemia.


      This systematic review provides high-quality evidence that delayed clamping reduced hospital mortality, which supports current guidelines recommending delayed clamping in preterm infants. This review does not evaluate cord milking, which may also be of benefit. Analyses of individual patient data in these and other randomized controlled trials will be critically important in reliably evaluating important secondary outcomes.

      Key words

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