Homemade umbilical cord ties: why doctors say they're not a good idea

A baby with a handmade cord tie.
A baby with a handmade cord tie. Photo: Facebook/Umbilical Cord Ties by Heartstrings

When it comes to birth plans, most mums-to-be consider things such as pain relief options and skin-to-skin contact. Others have preferences for music, lighting and other environmental factors.

But now some mums are adding another item to their list: what kind of umbilical clamp they would like to use on their baby.

The standard practice nowadays is to use plastic, sterile clamps, says obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Alex Polyakov, Clinical Director of Melbourne IVF at Royal Women's Hospital.

However, a new trend has emerged - one which sees mums opting for homemade knitted or crocheted clamps.

These homemade clamps are designed to be tied to the baby's umbilical cord, with the decorative part hanging outside the baby's nappy, explains midwife Amanda Bude from Groovy Babies.

Bude explains this trend has emerged for a number of reasons, saying some parents are concerned about the potential "discomfort" of a plastic clamp against their baby's skin. Others "simply don't want plastic" on their baby.

These were the kind of reasons that attracted Cheryl*, a mother of two, to choose a homemade clamp.

She used a plastic clamp for her first baby and found it "very awkward".

"I imagine it was quite uncomfortable for her," she says.

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So when she heard there was an alternative, she decided to give it a try. Her midwife supported the idea and the result was a crocheted tie for her son.

"I found nappy changes easier, had no concern about infection and his umbilical [cord] fell off much sooner than my daughter's did," says Cheryl.

"I've had no hesitation in recommending it to my pregnant friends."

There's no denying the homemade ones are visually more attractive than the plastic ones. And the fact that Nolan says they come in a variety of designs and can be personalised does seem appealing.

However, Bude remains wary, saying that plastic clamps are preferable to homemade ties for one key reason: the plastic version is sterilised.

She says this is important because the umbilical cord is a mucus membrane, so using a non-sterile clamp can cause infection.

That risk of infection can be increased, given that such clamps are not waterproof - meaning they can get wet by the baby's urine, or when the baby is bathed.

Plus, there's the issue of the clamp getting dirty.

"A baby's early poos (meconium) are really hard to clean off, let alone [when the poo gets on] wool," says Bude.

Unfortunately, the potential health risks don't end there, says Dr Polyakov.

While he says infection is a risk, he's also concerned about what may happen if the clamp isn't attached properly.

"If not tied properly on the baby's side immediately after birth, there is a risk of it falling off and the baby could end up with blood loss," he says.

Consequently, he says he wouldn't recommend this practice to his patients, instead believing it's best to stick to the current clamps used.

"Plastic clamps are specifically designed for the purpose and have been in use for decades, with no major complications reported."

Did you use a homemade clamp for your baby's birth? Or would you?

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