'Lotus birth' advocates leave the umbilical cord attached to newborn babies

lotus birth
CC BY 2.0 Mark DeMaio

A new trend in natural birthing methods strives to ease a baby's transition into the world by not detaching the cord and placenta immediately following birth. Unsurprisingly, reactions are mixed.

There is a new trend in the world of natural birthing methods. Some mothers are opting for “lotus births,” where the umbilical cord is not cut immediately after birth. Instead, the baby remains attached until the placenta and cord dry up and fall off on their own, usually after 3 to 10 days. The cord detaches at the navel on its own.

The placenta is stored in a cloth bag, often placed on a pillow for easier transportation, and the cord is wrapped in silk ribbon. Apparently the placenta is odorless for the first day and then has a “slightly musky smell” in the following days (unless you seal it up in an airtight container, in which case it smells bad).

What are the benefits of a lotus birth?

According to a website called Lotus Birth: A Natural Birthing Practice, keeping the umbilical cord intact allows for a greater transfer of iron- and oxygen-rich blood to the newborn baby:

“The infant obtains 40 to 60 mL of ‘extra blood’ from the placenta if the cord is not tied until pulsations cease. Common practice of immediate cutting of the cord before pulsations cease deprives the newborn of a possible 60 mL of blood, the equivalent to a 1200 mL hemorrhage in an adult. This is a likely explanation of the strange phenomenon of weight loss that most newborns seem to endure. The new organism is put immediately under undue stress to reproduce the blood it was denied.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists objects to the practice, citing increased risk of infection in the blood-saturated placenta, which could spread to the baby. Lotus birth supporters counter this by saying that risk of infection is actually reduced because there is no wound at the navel.

Hilda Hutcherson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, said there is no scientific evidence that waiting days for the cord to detach has any benefits, but that delaying clamping the cord may help:

“There has been research in the past few years which found that when doctors delay clamping the cord for three minutes, the baby receives higher levels of iron which prevents anemia, but beyond that time frame, leaving the cord attached to the baby serves no purpose because it no longer feeds nutrients to the baby.”

I love the idea of easing a baby’s transition into the world and, as a home birth veteran, I understand the appeal of making the birthing process as calm and stress-free as possible. The lotus birth model encourages new mothers to stay home, relax, and heal quietly in the days following delivery, because it’s inconvenient both to entertain guests and leave the house with a newborn and placenta-bag in tow.

I do find it difficult, however, to imagine handling a placenta-bag on top of all the other hassles of newborn life, from incessant diaper changes to breastfeeding agony, as well as managing older siblings. There comes a point when what’s easiest for the mother becomes best for the baby because those first few post-partum days are extremely challenging. A lotus birth is not something I’ll be doing when my baby arrives in April, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work well for someone else.

Have you had a lotus birth, or do you know anyone who has? How was that experience?

Tags: Babies | Health

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