Is a Lotus Birth Right for You?
Have you heard of lotus birth?
As you prepare to begin the pregnancy journey or as you ready yourself for your baby’s birth, it is important to make an informed choice about the kind of birth experience you would like to have. Although you can never plan every aspect of a birth, the more you know about your options, the more in control and relaxed you will feel as you approach this momentous experience.
Lotus birth is something most often considered by families that are looking to have a home birth, but educating yourself about all birth paths can be an empowering experience for moms.
What is lotus birth?
Lotus birth is also known as umbilical cord nonseverance, umbilical nonseverance, or UCNS. This is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut and still attached to the placenta until the cord separates from the umbilicus naturally. This can take anywhere from three to ten days.
Lotus birth is not to be confused with delayed cord clamping. Delayed cord clamping allows the cord to remain attached for a short period of time so that the baby can receive as much of the nutrient and oxygen dense blood from the mother’s body as possible before the clamping occurs. The cord and placenta system contain about one third of the baby’s blood. This practice of allowing the cord to remain attached for a few extra minutes is a fairly common practice as opposed to the lotus birth approach which is less common. Delayed cord clamping is often recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Is lotus birth safe?
The question of whether lotus birth is safe is a very important question to research, consider, and speak to trusted healthcare providers about as there is somewhat limited information about the safety of this choice.
As HeHe Stewart, Maternity Concierge, Doula, and Infant Development Expert, shares:
“Lotus birth hasn't been a priority when it comes to research so we have very limited data--most of which comes from cultural practices around the world. When we look at other mammalian births as well, we notice they do not sever themselves from their babies until after birth (They also don't wait days--they chew through it and generally consume their placenta within hours of birth). Once the placenta is birthed, it will begin to decay because it is no longer a living organ so this makes it prone to infection. However, parents who choose lotus birth often report feelings of being more deeply connected to their baby and a gentler birth experience. It is very important to speak to a provider to understand the risk of serious infection in newborns before making the decision to have a lotus birth.”
Due to the very limited research and data, the safety of lotus birth is unclear at best. The lack of research on how exactly to treat the placenta while waiting for the cord to detach in order to minimize risk also creates some safety concerns.
One of the risks that is known for babies who have a lotus birth is called cord avulsion. This refers to the potential injury that could happen if the cord is accidentally ripped away from the baby’s body.
What are the benefits of lotus birth?
The potential benefits of lotus birth are attractive to many moms who are looking to have a natural birth process and postpartum experience with as few interventions as possible. This is also a very gentle way for the baby to enter the world. A lotus birth does not prevent the mother from holding and breastfeeding the baby, so the mother and baby are able to remain close together.
Like delayed cord clamping, lotus birth provides increased blood and nourishment from the placenta but for a longer period of time. Also, because the cord is not cut before it would naturally depart from the placenta, there is less risk of injury to the belly button.
In addition, many families choose to honor the placenta or see additional benefits from this life giving organ through placenta ritual. Some mothers choose to eat the placenta by having it made into pills or by adding it into smoothies after birth. The placenta can also be made into a healing salve. Others donate the placenta since it can have many medical benefits. By allowing the placenta to run its natural course, mothers may see it as a ritual of honor or a more natural birth experience.
If a mom were ever to give birth in an emergency situation where she had to wait to receive medical attention or help, keeping the placenta attached could potentially reduce risk which is an interesting point to take note of.
If you are interested in having a lotus birth, your best possible chance at making this happen would be to plan for a home birth with a midwife who specifically has experience with lotus birth. Researching midwifery practices and getting referrals and recommendations is extremely important if you are looking to choose a midwife with this level of experience just as it would be to research any healthcare providers that might be involved with your baby’s birth.
What are the risks of lotus birth?
A risk of lotus birthing to be aware of involves the potential risk of infection. The placenta becomes dead tissue when blood stops flowing to it, and dead tissue can become infected. Since it would still be attached to the baby in this case, infection can occur.
There is also one case reported where the baby had persistent jaundice caused by idiopathic neonatal hepatitis. The baby did fully recover, and there is only one reported case of this happening.
The UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or RCOG, did warn against the lotus birthing process in 2013. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not have an official position on lotus birth, but they did provide the following statement by Maria Mascola, M.D., an OB/GYN and a former member of the Committee on Obstetric Practice in this article:
"There is little medical research on lotus birth specifically. However, leaving the cord and placenta attached to the infant for hours or days after birth can pose a clear risk of dangerous infections of the umbilicus. Bacteria often get into the placenta and membranes during the course of labor. By allowing the cord to remain attached to the placenta for several hours or more, those bacteria can transfer to baby’s umbilical cord site and infect that area. Infection of the umbilical cord site, or omphalitis, is a cause of dangerous infections for newborns around the world, particularly in those areas of the world that have less access to clean water, sterile instruments, and antibiotics. Until medical studies are done that can determine if there are benefits of this practice, mothers-to-be should be aware that the risk of infection remains a major concern."