What Is a Lotus Birth?

By Laura Carlson

Surprisingly, a small but mighty trend in Lotus Births is emerging among pregnant women in the Western World. "Lotus Birth" is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut and attached to the placenta for several days after childbirth. Some estimates put the percentage of such births at 5 percent. Will this trend continue to gain momentum?

Lotus Births on the Rise

The subject of lotus birthing is becoming an increasingly hot topic among midwives and their patients. For example, Deborah Rohdes, an independent midwife in the U.K., shares that 40 percent of the deliveries she has attended have been lotus births. She indicates that although Lotus Births are still in the minority, she has noticed that word about the practice is spreading through the midwife community.

A representative from the Royal College of Midwives agrees that Lotus Birthing is a subject of great interest in women's gatherings, and that more moms who are expecting are asking for further information about it.

PROS: Advantages of Lotus Birth

Less trauma: In the 1970s and '80s, natural healers and those practicing yoga in the United States began promoting this type of childbirth--and this is where the phrase "lotus birth" came from. One of the lotus birthing revivalists (Clair Lotus Day, an expectant mom and healer from San Francisco) brought extra public attention this form of birthing. She deduced that it would be "traumatic" for a human baby to have the cord detached too early. She found a doctor who empathized with this, and kept the cord intact until it fell off her own infant naturally.

Undisturbed bonding: Midwife community educator Mary Ceallaigh has told several media outlets (CBS News and The Post) that she believes having a Lotus birth allows for an undisturbed bonding experience, which helps sustain breastfeeding.

Timing Is Everything

Keep in mind that it is not "technically" a Lotus Birth if the cord is cut after a few minutes. But the timing of when the umbilical cord is clamped and then severed can be vital. Check out these benefits of delaying that separation by minutes:

  • Researchers at Columbia University say that leaving the cord on for about three minutes allows for more transfer of nutrients

  • University of South Florida researchers back up this claim

  • The WHO (World Health Organization) Reproductive Health Library agrees there may be some benefits for the infant when clamping and cutting is delayed up to three minutes-it can also improve the iron status of the infant

About 80 ml of blood moves between the placenta and the baby after just one minute following birth. This can be as high as 100 ml by three minutes later. That means the baby gets extra iron during this post-birth time period-and when this mineral is added to a full-term newborn's weight, it can help prevent iron deficiency in the first year of life.

"I know there are convincing statistics regarding letting the cord continue to pulsate following birth and how the baby is benefiting from getting the oxygen-rich blood from the placenta," says Yvonne Novak, CD, CCCE, Birth Doula and Childbirth Educator at Doula with Love in Pasadena, CA. "MOST of my clients opt for this choice [leaving the cord attached for a few minutes]. Besides... if you think about it, the blood within that system does belong to the baby. And, if it is cut too soon we are denying the baby that blood, which can be a lot."

CONS: Risks of Lotus Birth

If the cord stays attached for too long (after a couple of minutes of pulsating ends), studies have found it may put the baby at a greater risk of neonatal disorders like polycythemia (an abnormally high number of red blood cells). The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists says that at post-delivery stage, the placenta is essentially dead tissue that contains blood, but has no circulation. So, it is prone to infection.

Plus, caring for a newborn attached to the placenta can be quite challenging. Novak concurs that when the placenta and cord remains attached to the baby for many days afterward, it can be difficult for moms to deal with, including:

  • There is a distinctive odor.

  • Handling the baby and the placenta is a delicate endeavor, because the baby and the placenta are in such close proximity

Novak says it seems "over the top" to leave the cord on until it separates naturally-but she respects the decisions of the moms who go this route. Very few moms opt for this, though, she adds.

Degrees of Separation

Lotus births are rare in the Western world. But the "type" of Lotus birth may vary by degree…there are "short" and "full" lotus births:

Short Lotus Birth - The naturally sealed cord is cut 4-6 hours after the birth. This is an accepted practice among midwives in most regions of the world.

Full Lotus Birth - This is when the cord is allowed to dry until it becomes sinew, detaching naturally from the placenta. The full lotus was practiced among early settlers. Think back to the days of the early European settlers in America…life required a certain degree of robustness. Those newborns were among the "hardiest babies" in history, according to diaries unearthed from that era.

Whether the Western World continues to welcome the revival of lotus births remains to be seen. Advocates make up a small percentage, but they can be mighty.

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