It’s hard to deny the special, intimate relationship babies have with their umbilical cords and placentas. In an ultrasound, you may even see baby nuzzled up to the cord, tiny arms wrapped around it like it’s a teddy bear. Not surprising, considering it’s what sustains them while in the womb.
When you think about it that way, cutting the cord immediately after birth does seem a little… strange. In fact, delayed cord clamping is recommended by nearly all major healthcare organizations. But some mamas are taking the practice one step further with lotus birth.
And although the birthing practice is gaining popularity, it’s important that any curious mama gets all of the facts first. Here, we’re laying it all out there—the risks, the potential benefits, and a great alternative for those who are wary of lotus birth.
What Is Lotus Birth?
Lotus birth, also known as umbilical nonseverance, is the practice of leaving the baby attached to the placenta until the cord naturally dries and disconnects from the belly button. This process generally takes 3-10 days, but can vary depending on climate and humidity levels.
Lotus birth is about keeping the umbilical cord and placenta with the baby while he or she gently transitions to life outside the womb. It is a quiet and respectful transfer of attachment, without the trauma of being cut from the mother.
The name comes from the lotus flower, a flower important to Eastern cultures for its symbolism of unity, detachment, and rebirth. Lotus births speckle the history of childbirth in cultures around the globe, in places like Bali and Southern Africa. Historical traces of lotus births appear in Europe as early as the Middle Ages. And records of not cutting the umbilical cord appear on the American continent as early as the pioneer days. In Western nations, lotus birth seems to be a new birth trend steeped in early tradition.
Benefits of Lotus Birth
You’d be hard-pressed to find any healthcare professional who recommends the practice—and even fewer hospitals that would allow a patient to have a lotus birth. That’s because there really isn’t any medical data supporting the touted benefits.
For many, lotus birth is a mostly spiritual practice that honors the birthing process and the sacred relationship baby has with the umbilical cord and placenta. That said, some possible benefits could include:
- More Blood: Like delayed cord clamping, umbilical nonseverance doesn’t disrupt blood volume and allows the oxygenated blood to flow back into the baby. This improves blood circulation, body temperature, red blood cell count, the immune system, and brain development.
- No Open Wound Means Less Infection Risk: In her book Brought To Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950 Dr. Judith W. Leavitt explains that American pioneer babies were often left connected to their placenta to lessen risk of infection and boost child mortality rates. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
- Faster Healing of the Umbilicus: Midwife consult and lotus birth educator, Mary Ceallaigh, told the New York Post that lotus birth babies’ belly buttons are “perfect.” She said in the interview, “By perfect, I mean a completely healed navel skin area. Belly button shapes vary. (They are all cute!).”
- Emotional Wellbeing: Some say lotus birth softens the newborn’s transition from the womb to the outside world. They believe it reduces birth trauma and reinforces the gentleness of natural birth.
- Postpartum Healing: When a new mom has a newborn still connected to the placenta, it forces the mother to move slowly, carefully, and minimally. This is exactly what her body needs to recover. Both mother and child benefit from respecting the healing process. There is no such “bouncing back” with a placenta in tow.
Most medical organizations do not support lotus birth. In fact, neither the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology or the American Pregnancy Association even address the practice on their websites. And a 2008 statement from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said, “If left for a period of time after the birth, there is a risk of infection in the placenta which can consequently spread to the baby. The placenta is particularly prone to infection as it contains blood. At the post-delivery stage, it has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue.”
Like anything, common sense prevails. And common sense says protective measures should be taken with decaying human tissue. Here, lotus birth risks and drawbacks you should be aware of:
- Infection: As a decaying human organ filled with human blood, there are bacterial overgrowth risks if not properly cared for. Parents who choose a lotus birth should monitor their babies more closely for infection. If the cord has been torn or damaged during birth or C-section, a lotus birth is not safe.
- “You Can’t Have Your Placenta, and Eat It, Too.” While not necessarily a risk, this does stop women from choosing lotus birth. If you plan to consume or encapsulate your placenta, a lotus birth is not for you.
- Inconvenience: You really should not be going anywhere with the infant and his or her placenta. It’s not a very fashionable—or practical—accessory, plus travel can increase the risk of infection.