Alternatives to Plastic Umbilical Cord Clamps

Below is what the usual umbilical cord clamp used by most South African Hospitals. This kind of umbilical cord clamp is quite big, clunky and sometimes can cause discomfort for the baby if it gets caught on the edge of a nappy.

It’s no wonder that parents are interested in alternatives to the standard cord clamp – and yes, there are options!

First some information about the Umbilical Cord itself…

Humans are the only mammals on earth that have the umbilical cord immediately clamped and cut following the birth. Thankfully research is now available that shows that this unnatural practice actually causes harm and that delayed cord clamping should be standard practice.

All other mammals leave it attached for quite some time, after which the mother would simply bite through it to separate the baby from the placenta. When this is done, the blood vessels in the cord go into spasm and close them off to prevent blood from passing through. The cord is also not sterile, and therefore anything placed on or near it should simply be clean and not sterile.

So what are some options that can be used as an alternative to a big plastic clamp?

Lotus Birth

Lotus birth is the practice of leaving both baby, cord and placenta as an intact unit. The cord is not clamped and the placenta is delivered without cutting the cord. Depending on the preferences of the parents, the cord may be cut in a few hours time, or left alone completely until the cord dries up and falls off naturally. You can read more information abou thow to have a Lotus Birth here.

Silk Ties

After leaving the cord to finish pulsating, the cord is clamped with artery forceps on the placenta side and the silk is tied around the cord on the baby’s side. The cord is then cut between these two “clamps”.

You can either make or buy silk umbilical cord ties. While it’s safe enough to tie them on directly, you may wish to boil them prior to use. They make a lovely substitute which are pretty, colourful and can be kept as a keepsake.

Burning the Umbilical Cord

In this case the placenta needs to have already been delivered and placed in a container. Boards are placed between the baby and where the cord is to be severed. Using lit candles (and bowls to catch the wax) the mother, father and/or siblings burn through the umbilical cord. This can be done as part of a ceremony with prayers or blessings if you wish. There is no chance of infection with this method due to the fact that the end is cauterised so is a good option, but it does take some preparation and understanding to do.

Cord Care without Surgical Spirits

Surgical Spirits, or rubbing alcohol, is still routinely used in South Africa as the standard method of caring for the umbilical cord despite many other countries (such as the United Kingdom) discontinuing the practice due to certain problems it creates. In South Africa, mothers are advised to apply surgical spirits to the base of the cord with every nappy change but alternative practices exist.

The problems with alcohol use

Studies have shown that using Surgical Spirits to clean the umbilical cord increase the time it takes for the cord to fall off, and is linked to irritation of the baby’s skin. In some cases, where the alcohol solution has been liberally applied, the baby has shown signs toxic effects caused by absorption – hemorrhagic skin necrosis, dysfunction of the central nervous system, metabolic acidosis, and hypoglycemia.

Alternative 1

In the United Kingdom, mothers are advised to leave the cord alone completely. They are taught to instead recognise the signs of infection. When leaving the cord alone completely, the following steps should also be taken:

  • Do not immerse the baby in a bath until the cord has fallen off
  • The baby should be “top and tailed” ie use a cloth to clean the baby’s face a bottom
  • At every nappy change, ensure the cord stump has not been contaminated with urine or feces. If it has then clean with warm water
  • Ensure that the cord is dry with no oozing, redness or swelling at the base (speak to your doctor or midwife if there is)

Alternative 2

For those that don’t feel quite so comfortable leaving the cord alone entirely, there are certain other gentle things which may be used in place of Surgical Spirits for cord care.

Wecasin Powder 

Also known as weeping wound powder – it is a herbal remedy that is popular for use in umbilical cord care. Simply apply it when needed to help speed the drying process, as well as knowing the signs of potential infection.

Other options for topical treatment are:




This is a birth that happens in at a place which is not a medical facility ie. the mothers home or the house of a friend/family member.

Prior to the mid-1900's childbirth always happened in the home and was attended by a midwife or the local GP.

People often question the safety of childbirth out of hospital, and it is the responsibility of each and every woman considering this option to do her own research.

The conclusion that I, personally, came to was the following:

Prior to the mid-1900's birth was often dangerous and so when the option of a "safe" childbirth in hospital became available women quite obviously opted for this. Historically, birth was dangerous and many women died during childbirth, as they still do in rural areas that do not have access to modern medical facilities. However, over the last 50 years the medical world has become highly advanced (even compared to 100 years ago). This has allowed us to have access to a plethora of pre-natal tests and procedures that help prevent or deal with complications affecting both the pregnancy and the birth itself.

By the time a woman would get to point of going into labour, many conditions that could cause complications at birth have been ruled out. In the past women would go into the labour quite bindly, even as little as 50 years ago (ask your grandmother!) when they had their baby in a hospital. It's no wonder that still, in many people's minds, homebirth = dangerous.

These days midwives are highly trained medical professionals, who are the undeniable specialists in normal, natural birth. Her training is such that, during the course of labour, she will know exactly which signs to look for that may signal possible complications and she will ensure an immediate transfer to the hospital. Part of planning a safe and successful homebirth is ensuring that you have a Plan B that involves getting to a facility equipped with tools to assist in the event that complications arise.

There are now more and more studies being done that show the safety of homebirth when it happens under the right conditions. In the past, there were a number of studies that seemed to show that homebirth was very risky, but it was found that they had included data involving unplanned homebirths (such as women giving birth in the car on the way to hospital) and even miscariages! This would indeed scew the results.

There are countries in Europe, such as Holland, where homebirth is the norm. In these countries women only go to a hospital when there are complications, otherwise they will automatically have the baby at home with a midwife. It is interesting to note that studies (conducted by WHO) have shown these countries have the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, compared to countries such as the USA where the norm is hospital birth, and approximately 30% of those births being c-sections.

Unfortunately there are no studies of this sort available in South Africa, where we also have the vast majority of births happening in hospital and between a 70-90% c-section rate.

A homebirth is a safe, healthy option for the majority of women and something worth consideration when planning the birth of your baby.

Unassisted Birth

Unassisted Free Birth

This is when a woman decides to have a baby, at home, without the help of a medical professional (ie. Doctor or Midwife). Sometimes there may be assistance from a partner/friend/sister/doula and other times the woman may choose to have her baby in complete privacy.

The reasons a woman may choose this option are many and varied. It may simply be the case that the woman does not have access to a medical professional who is able to attend a homebirth, or perhpas there are no Birth Centres in the area, and so to achieve a birth without medical management she must take sole responsibility for the birth.

To most people the idea of an unassisted childbirth will seem horrifying and they may wonder why any woman would choose to do so. Rest assured that any woman who chooses this option has not done so without very careful consideration and many hours of soul searching - not to mention extentsive research into pregnancy and childbirth.

The women that choose this option are usually highly educated and have a very strong belief in themselves and their bodys ability to birth.

Even if this choice is something you would never consider, I think that one of things we can take away from women who do choose this is their positive attitude towards birth and their bodies.

While this kind of mindset is not a guarantee that there will not be complications, it still goes a long way to helping one approach labour and birth without fear - essential for the correct perception of pain and to feel empowered by your experience.

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