CHILDHOOD anaemia is a problem. Around the world, almost a quarter of under-fives suffer from it. And anaemia is not a trivial thing. A child's development, both physical and mental, is stifled by a lack of iron. The reason is that, besides its well-known role in haemoglobin, the oxygen-transporting molecule in the blood, iron is also involved in many aspects of brain development.
A study just published in the British Medical Journal by Ola Andersson, an obstetrician at the Hospital of Halland in Halmstad, Sweden, suggests that a simple change of medical procedure when a child is born may bring a big reduction in anaemia. That change is not to cut the umbilical cord linking the child with the placenta straight after birth—as is standard practice—but, rather, to give it time to transfer more of the placenta's contents (particularly its blood) to the child it has been nurturing.
《英国医疗期刊》发表了一份瑞典哈尔姆斯塔德哈兰省医院的一位产科医师 Ola Andersson的研究。该研究显示，当婴儿出生时，只要做一个小小的医疗程序的改变就能够大幅减少贫血的发生。这个小改变就是在，在胎儿分娩后，不要按照标准的医疗程序立刻剪断脐带，而给点时间让脐带能够继续将一直滋养着婴儿的胎盘内容物（特别是血液）传输到婴儿体内。
The argument in favour of rapid clamping is that too much blood may flow from the detached placenta to the newly born child, and that this can cause problems of its own. But that is unproven, and would be a strike against evolution because, in nature, the umbilicus of a mammal usually does remain attached to the infant for some time after birth. Only the modern technology of clamps and sharp scissors permits the slithery tube to be dealt with at speed.
To test her idea that extended post partum connection to the placenta is good for a child's health, Dr Andersson and her colleagues recruited 334 pregnant, non-smoking women whose fetuses appeared to be healthy. When these women came to term, their midwives followed one of two sets of instructions, chosen at random and given to them just before each birth. In 166 cases the newborns had their umbilical cords clamped within ten seconds of delivery. The other 168 had them clamped after at least three minutes had passed.
When the children were four months old, Dr Andersson re-examined them and took a blood sample. Those babies whose umbilical clamps had been applied after three minutes had, on average, iron levels 45% higher than those whose cords had been clamped immediately. Put another way, only 0.6% of them were anaemic, compared with 5.7% of the rapidly clamped.
Rapid clamping of the umbilicus, then, seems to cause one child in 20 to become anaemic, at least in the early months of its life. Any experiment of this sort needs to be repeated, of course, to check it is correct. But if it is, then the burden of proof in the matter of when to cut the cord will have shifted from those who would cut late to those who would cut early. The cost of doing so would seem negligible; the benefit, great.