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.
Lotus Birth Risks
There is no hard data on lotus births, so it is imperative that any curious mamas approach with extreme caution.
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.
What Does a Lotus Birth Look Like?
We cannot stress this enough: Before attempting to have a lotus birth, consult your birthing team to create a safe plan of action that’s right for you and your baby. It is a largely unstudied practice that should be approached with caution.
But if you are curious about how a lotus birth happens, here is a general idea of what to expect:
- When the baby is born, the umbilical cord is left alone while the mother delivers the placenta naturally (without Pitocin).
- Once the cord stops pulsing, the placenta is generally rinsed with warm water and gently dried with an organic, absorbent cloth. It’s then left to drain for approximately 24 hours.
- The placenta does require regular maintenance to prevent infection. Some place the placenta in a basket or pot and liberally cover it in rosemary powder or sea salt, adding as needed. Others do this, but store it in a cloth diaper or placenta bag. (Containers should be changed and cleaned daily.)
- Baby is usually dressed in loose clothing to facilitate air circulation and to reduce tugging until the placenta and cord naturally detach from the navel.
Because lotus birth can lead to serious infection, both placenta and baby should be monitored very closely. If there is any foul odor, unusual color, or any indication of a problem whatsoever, a healthcare provider should be called right away.
Can I Have a Lotus Birth in a Hospital?
Lotus birth is far more common in a home birth setting. Because of the risks, it is rare that a hospital let you have a lotus birth. Some will honor the request to keep the placenta attached for religious reasons. Other hospitals will allow the placenta to go home with the mother only if treated with formaldehyde—but that hinders a natural and undisturbed process.
Even if you plan to have a home birth, it’s best to have all the facts ahead of time. Research the practice thoroughly, talk to your birthing team, and know your local hospital’s policy ahead of time in case of an emergency transfer.
Lotus Birth Photos
Here is a round up of some our favorite #lotusbirth images from Instagram. How amazing are they?!
Alternative to Lotus Birth
If a lotus birth sounds extreme, consider delayed cord clamping. With all its evidence-based benefits, this popular practice should be the standard for all birth settings. We can’t stress this enough!
During delayed cord clamping, the birth provider simply waits a few minutes for the cord to stop pulsing before clamping and cutting. This allows the placental transfusion of blood into the baby.
The practice is routinely recommended by worldwide health organizations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a delay in umbilical cord clamping in full term and preterm infants for at least 30-60 seconds after birth, stating that:
“Delayed umbilical cord clamping is associated with significant neonatal benefits in preterm infants, including improved transitional circulation, better establishment of red blood cell volume, decreased need for blood transfusion, and lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis and intraventricular hemorrhage.”
The American College of Midwives recommends waiting at least 2-5 minutes. And the World Health Organization recommends “late cord clamping (performed 1-3 minutes after birth) for all births while initiating simultaneous essential newborn care.”
What Do You Think About Lotus Birth?
Placentas are called “nature’s sacred gift.” For some, the gift keeps on giving even after the birth. Lotus birth is polarizing, but whatever side you fall on, you have to admit: placentas are a marvel of creation. They grew our babies. If you have had a lotus birth, we’d love to hear your stories and thoughts on the experience.
Lotus birth images by Monet Nicole. Learn more about birth photography on her website.