What Is a Lotus Birth?
The latest birth trend is here, and not all doctors are on board.
Traditionally, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut shortly after birth. The remaining stump naturally dries up and falls off in a few weeks. But in a lotus birth, the cord isn't clamped at all. The umbilical cord is left intact, attached to the placenta, until it separates on its own.
The trend is a relatively recent practice, but how safe is it? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Here's what scientists have to say on the matter.
The Theory Behind the Lotus Birth
The origins of the lotus birth concept are unknown. No written records have been found to indicate that any human cultures left the umbilical cord uncut. Many cultures do, however, consider the placenta itself to be sacred. The Maori people of New Zealand, for example, bury the placenta on an ancestral hill.
It's not hard to see why the placenta is so highly esteemed. Its existence and function are nothing short of miraculous. Before pregnancy, the placenta doesn't exist. About a week after conception, it begins to form. By the second trimester, it's responsible for delivering all nourishment to the growing fetus. By the time a new mother's due date rolls around, the placenta is a full-sized organ weighing an entire pound.
Without the placenta, a healthy pregnancy could not happen. It's also, both literally and figuratively, what forms the bond between mother and child in utero. The umbilical cord connects the placenta to your baby.
Proponents of lotus births believe that leaving the placenta attached gives babies more time to adjust to no longer being connected to their mother. Some also believe the prolonged connection benefits the newborn's immune system and boosts their blood oxygen levels.
In reality, these claims haven't been studied enough to determine whether they hold any weight.
How Is a Lotus Birth Different from Delayed Cord Clamping
While lotus births need to be evaluated thoroughly before the medical community makes any firm judgments about the practice either way, delayed cord clamping gets a clear green light.
Delayed cord clamping is a similar practice to a lotus birth, only much less extreme. Instead of allowing the placenta to remain attached for several days, it's only allowed to stick around for a couple of minutes. This small amount of extra time has been proven to increase a newborn's blood volume and improve circulation, particularly in preterm infants.
Additionally, there are very few risks associated with delayed cord clamping. The same cannot be said for the trendy lotus birth.
The Risks of Lotus Births Should Be Taken Seriously
Have you ever seen a human organ outside of the body? Maybe in a college biology lab? Well, that's similar to what the placenta looks like post-childbirth. Once the placenta has left the womb, it no longer has blood circulating through it.
This means the newborn is essentially attached to a lump of dead tissue, leading to possible infection. If not caught early, infection inside or around the umbilical cord can be extremely serious.
How to Care for a Placenta After a Lotus Birth
Since a lotus birth isn't a medically encouraged practice, there are no tested protocols for caring for a placenta post-lotus birth. Some people keep it in a bag, while other leave it exposed to air. Neither method has been studied.
Either way, there are a few general practices that doctors do recommend if you decide a lotus birth is right for you:
- Avoid dressing your newborn in tight fitting clothes that put pressure on the umbilical cord
- Do not put tension on the umbilical cord by placing the placenta too far away from your baby
- Use caution not to damage either the cord or the placenta while feeding, carrying or changing your baby
- Keep a close eye on both your baby and the placenta for signs of infection. Look out for redness or swelling around the cord, irregular feeding within the first three days of birth, difficulty waking up or a temperature over 100.4. If any of these signs are present, seek out immediate medical care.
Is a Lotus Birth Worth Trying?
Every mother's birth plan is a very personal decision. Expecting parents should weigh the pros and cons of all possible birth options carefully.
Before you make any final decisions, consult a doctor you trust. The right MD can help you develop a birth plan that maximizes the chances of you having the blissful birth experience you're dreaming of while minimizing risks to your new addition.