What Is a Lotus Birth, And Is It Safe?
Lotus birth, or umbilical nonseverance, occurs when the placenta remains attached to the infant after birth via the umbilical cord. It may be making the rounds on social networks, but is a lotus birth really better for your baby?
What is a lotus birth?
Minutes after delivery, doctors sever and clamp the umbilical cord as the blood flow between mother and baby declines. However, with a lotus birth, the placenta is left to detach from the baby once the cord withers away.
This drying-out process takes three to 12 days. Some parents treat the placenta with salt and herbs to preserve it and may fashion some sort of bag for easier transportation. There is no medically recommended way to store a placenta, according to information from the University of Michigan.
Who invented a lotus birth?
There’s a common misconception behind the origins of a lotus birth. Some believe this practice originated somehow with the lotus flower, a plant especially revered in Asian culture. But, the name comes from Californian Clair Lotus Day.
In 1974, Day observed how an anthropoid ape, or an ape with more humanlike features such as gorillas or chimpanzees, did not separate their baby from the placenta, according to Women and Birth, a journal of the Australian college of midwives. She decided to try it on her newest family member.
The practice dates farther back than the 1970s. Small segments of humanity have practiced umbilical cord cutting and clamping for hundreds of years. One of the earliest historical mentions is in the Italian women’s health texts, "The Trotula: a Medieval Compendium of Medicine," written between the 12th and 15th centuries.
The 12th-century authors recommended cutting the cord while a charm is spoken, tied, and then wrapped "with the string of an instrument."
Are there any benefits to a lotus birth?
Some people believe a lotus birth is a gentler way to welcome an infant into the world. While in the womb, the placenta is the organ responsible for delivering vital oxygen, nutrients and antibodies to the fetus, as well as filtering any toxins out of the mother’s blood. So, some people believe the placenta continues to nourish the baby until the placenta falls away.
The medical community largely disagrees with the practice.
"Claimed benefits of a lotus birth have not been proven," said Cindy Cedillo-Ruiz, M.D., a family physician based in Houston.
"Lotus birth can be dangerous because the placenta and cord become dead tissue and thus prone to become an infection source that is then still directly connected to the baby," she said.
The risks of lotus birth include:
- Sepsis, an extreme response to infection
- Polycythemia, or erythrocytosis, a chronic blood marrow disorder
The signs of a lotus birth infection include:
- Redness or swelling near the umbilical cord
- Temperature higher than 100.4
- Eating less
- Sleeping more
"Another problem could be if the cord is drying in an odd position making it difficult to change diapers or maneuver the baby without ripping at the stump," said Gloria Hines, a midwife and owner of Glory Birth, based in Kansas City, Kansas.
Is there a safer option than a lotus birth?
Delayed cord clamping, not a lotus birth, is safer for your baby to get nourishment from the placenta post-birth. The World Health Organization recommends waiting at least 1-3 minutes before cutting the cord after your baby is born.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a delay in umbilical cord clamping in "vigorous term and preterm infants" for a minimum of 30–60 seconds after birth. There is a small increase in the risk of jaundice in these infants, so healthcare professionals will closely monitor the baby.
What are the potential health benefits of delayed cord clamping?
"There is evidence to show benefits from delayed cord clamping and the majority of delivering physicians in this country are happy to accommodate for that, with the exception being certain emergency situations," Cedillo-Ruiz said.
The benefits of delayed cord clamping include the following:
- Up to 30 percent more blood volume can be transferred to the baby than if the cord was clamped immediately.
- It assists with providing oxygen to their brain and the rest of their organs as they transition to breathing outside of the womb.
- The increased hemoglobin and iron levels help to support the baby’s neurodevelopment.
- Stem cells create protection against future illnesses.
"Delayed cord clamping has come to mean many things. Some do 30 seconds, some a minute, some until the placenta comes out and some after the cord has finished sending the baby back his blood," Hines said.
She adds that it is not known exactly how long stem cells are sent from the placenta to the baby after they’ve been born.
Birth tissues like the placenta and cord can be used or honored in other ways.
"You can do cord blood banking. You can take it home and use it as an amazing fertilizer for your plants," Hines said.
Note that healthcare professionals and medical researchers do not recommend eating your placenta.
What are safer things you can do with the placenta?
Cord blood banking is the process of harvesting blood from the umbilical cord. It is also possible to take placental blood at the same time. It can be used for up to 25 years to transplant in the case of serious health problems, like certain cancers.
"There are other creative options that pose no infection risk to the baby, like using a service to create jewelry from the placenta,” said Cedillo-Ruiz. “Placentas can also be donated for medical research and medical treatment development."
Placenta donation is not as common as private cord blood banking or donated cord blood. This birth tissue can be used to create wound coverings for venous and diabetic ulcers. There are eligibility criteria to meet before banks accept organ donations.
Do your homework. If you choose to store cord blood, ensure any organization for cord blood donation or blood banking is fully accredited.
The bottom line
Labor and delivery are unpredictable. Understanding your birth choices, and the potential risks or benefits, can help you feel a little more prepared for parenthood. If you have questions or concerns, speak with your doctor or healthcare professional.
Do you need a new therapist or doctor? Giddy Telehealth is an easy-to-use online portal that provides access to hundreds of healthcare professionals. Many medical providers offer same-day appointments or video consultations.