Birthing technique touted as ground-breaking 'nothing new' for Māori

A birthing technique being touted as a new way to potentially save premature babies is something Māori have been doing for decades, says a health provider.

New research says waiting at least a minute to cut a premature baby's umbilical cord can increase the infant's chances of survival by 30 percent.

The years-long study concluded that leaving the cord intact allows placenta blood to nourish the baby with extra iron and oxygen, easing the transition from womb to the outside world.

Regional health provider Hāpai Te Hauora says these findings are nothing new - they simply confirm what Māori have known for decades.

It has been common practice for Māori to delay cutting babies' umbilical cords since long before the 'medicalisation' of birth in New Zealand, says midwife Amanda Douglas.

"For Māori this is nothing new, as with many practices such as leaving the placenta and umbilical cord intact to allow for oxygen and nutrients to pass to the baby," she explained.

The place where the umbilical cord is cut (te wāhi i kotia ai te pito) is believed to be a special location for each person, representing their first emergence into the world.

Fay Selby-Law, Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) manager for Hāpai Te Hauora, says a great number of natural birthing practices have been abandoned in favour of a more sterile, hospital-focused approach to childbirth.

"It's great that delayed clamping is being recognised for its benefits, but I take my hat off to those midwives and nurses that have already been doing this for years," she says.

Hāpai Te Hauora chief executive Lance Norman says the health provider believes in using traditional Māori health practices to inform modern medicine.

"We know that Māori babies can be at higher risk of poor health outcomes, so how can we reclaim existing birthing practices like wahakura to ensure that all babies can be given the best care possible?"