You may or may not have heard of lotus birth. It’s the practice of not cutting a baby’s umbilical cord soon after birth, and instead leaving it and the placenta attached to the baby. For some people, the umbilical cord and attached placenta look like a lotus flower, so that’s how the term originated. Medical providers use the term “umbilical cord nonseverance.”
If the umbilical cord is left attached, it will spontaneously dry up and fall off in about five to 15 days. During this time, the placenta must be kept close to the baby so the cord isn’t pulled or twisted. In addition, the placenta must be carried around along with the baby. Parents who practice lotus birth usually keep the placenta in a bowl or bag or wrap it in a cloth. They may apply salt, herbs or essential oils to the placenta to help preserve it.
Why Choose Lotus Birth?
In some cultures, the placenta is associated with spiritual qualities. Some advocates of lotus birth say their babies are calmer because the cord and placenta weren’t abruptly cut, but allowed to gently detach. Others say that letting the cord fall off on its own avoids the wound that is created when the cord is cut. In one study, some mothers expressed the idea that the placenta belongs to the baby. Letting the cord dry up and fall off on its own is a way to let the baby decide “when to let go.”
What Experts Say
Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend leaving the umbilical cord attached for an extended period of time. They do endorse delayed cord clamping — a delay of at least 30 to 60 seconds after birth before the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. This delay allows extra blood to flow from the placenta to the baby and improves the level of iron stored in the baby’s body. The extra blood has significant benefits in preterm babies, such as improving circulation and decreasing the need for transfusions. The length of delay can vary, depending on the needs of the baby and mother.
The United Kingdom’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued a statement warning parents that there is no evidence to support lotus birth as a safe practice. Dr. Patrick O’Brien, RCOG spokesperson, says, “If left for a period 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. Within a short time after birth, once the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating, the placenta has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue.”
Benefits and Risks
Currently, there’s no medical evidence that the practice of lotus birth benefits the baby. Because more parents are requesting lotus birth, the medical community is interested in future research and evidence regarding this practice.
Experts agree that after delivery, the placenta has no circulation and is prone to infection. If blood in the placenta becomes infected, the infection can pass to the baby. Currently published case reports do show a link between lotus births and both sepsis from bacterial infection and persistent hepatitis. Recent case reports from a variety of areas across the US describe serious complications from lotus births. Parents have been bringing their babies in for medical care with the umbilical cord and placenta still attached because of problems they observed. These babies have been admitted to neonatal intensive care units with life-threatening infections. In one case, a baby experienced an infection of the inner lining of the heart and heart valves.
What Should Parents Do?
If you are thinking about the practice of lotus birth for your yet-to-be-born baby, talk to your medical provider. Carefully consider the lack of evidence-based medical benefits along with the increased risk of serious and potentially life-threatening complications.
If you do make the decision to proceed with lotus birth, monitor the baby closely for infection. Get medical care right away if there are signs of a problem. Some problems to watch for include:
» Redness, swelling or heat around the umbilical cord area
» Poor feeding or problems with feeding
» Not waking up to feed
» Trouble breathing, faster-than-normal breathing or unusual breathing sounds
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer who splits her time between Austin and Seattle.