Should a lotus birth be part of your birth plan? While cutting the cord is already garden variety practice in delivery rooms, this new trend of leaving baby attached to placenta until natural separation is gaining popularity. So, is there any evidence backing this method, or is it is just the latest pseudoscientific fad?
While there’s no debate that the placenta is an incredible organ (mad props to the organ that generates itself for the sole purpose of making your baby!), let’s dive into the debate around whether it makes sense to leave this organ attached to your baby for an extended period of time.
What is a Lotus Birth?
A lotus birth, also known as “umbilical unseverance”, is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut, allowing the baby to remain attached to the placenta for an extended length of time.. Eventually, the cord dries up and naturally falls off, usually taking between three to 10 days before completely detaching from baby’s navel.
Unlike standard medical practice, which cuts the umbilical cord within 10 seconds after birth (or slightly longer, at least one minute, as in delayed cord clamping), with lotus birth the cord is never intentionally severed. After the cord eventually falls off, both the cord and placenta are placed in a special pot or pouch and treated with herbs and salt until the cord disintegrates.
Supporters of lotus births believe that cutting the umbilical cord is a jarring separation that also deprives the baby of the extra blood and nutrients remaining in the placenta after birth. Adherents of the practice advocate treating the baby, placenta and umbilical as one united being, arguing that the cord and placenta will instinctively “know” when it’s time to separate.
Anecdotally, women also claim that babies with uncut umbilical cords do not experience the initial post-birth weight loss that is common for many babies with standard cord cutting. It’s also sometimes suggested that a lotus birth has tremendous emotional and spiritual benefits, such as helping a baby transition more peacefully from womb to world and producing a happier and calmer infant.
It’s important to note that these are all anecdotal claims and currently there are no scientific studies to support them.
Is a Lotus Birth an Age-Old Tradition?
Well…not exactly. One would think for a practice so steeped in spirituality that it has long-standing roots in traditional cultures. But it’s actually a pretty new idea.
While some unofficial records do exist of early pioneers not cutting umbilical cords after birth (I.e. lotus birth), the idea didn’t really take hold until the early 1980s, in large part to advocacy for the practice by yoga master and midwife Jeannine Parvati Baker. However, the first medical mention of a lotus birth didn’t appear until 2001 in Midwifery Today (Issue 58, Summer 2001).
Are There Medical Benefits to a Lotus Birth?
While proponents of the practice claim that it provides valuable nutrients from the placenta to the baby, there isn’t any evidence that keeping the baby attached to the placenta for an extended period of time carries any health benefits.
There is evidence that delayed cord cutting (waiting a few minutes after birth to cut the cord instead of cutting it right away) can help transfer additional blood supply, and this practice is becoming more common in mainstream obstetric practice. But after those initial minutes when the cord is drained of remaining blood, there is no scientific evidence that leaving it attached confers any benefit.
So, why isn’t there any scientific evidence for the purported benefits of lotus birth? For starters, it’s pretty difficult to design a study to collect data about a baby’s spiritual journey. And since lotus birth is a relatively new practice with a low number of adherents, it would be a major challenge to recruit a large enough sample size to obtain statistically significant results. Further complicating matters is that it would be difficult to account for confounding factors present in the population of parents who are more likely to self-select lotus birth.
To accurately judge whether there is any benefit to lotus birth would require a large study that compared a concrete biological output from the infants who underwent lotus birth versus standard cord cutting (aka measuring stress hormones, iron status, or similar). Because no studies of that kind have been published, there is no proven benefit for deviating from the carefully established medical standards in favor of this newer, untested practice.
Are there Risks Associated with a Lotus Birth?
One of the biggest risks is the possibility of infection. Because the placenta still houses lots of protein and biological compounds after birth, it’s prime breeding ground for bacteria, seriously increasing risk for infection to the baby.
Even with standard cord cutting, there is a small risk of infection if the site of cutting is not properly cleaned and dried. But this risk increases with lotus birth because the placenta is a much larger gateway for infection.