What Is Lotus Birth?

Is letting the placenta naturally break off safe?

If you’ve spent any time on natural parenting websites or pages, you’ve probably noticed people talking about lotus births. They’re often touted as being more “natural” and more “peaceful" for both mom and baby, but this birthing practice/placenta ritual isn’t without its share of controversy or risk.

What Is Lotus Birth?

Lotus birth, also called umbilical non-severance, is when the umbilical cord is left completely intact, still connecting an infant to the placenta, until the cord naturally separates from the belly button. This typically takes about 3 to 10 days.

While some people cite the lotus flower and its symbolism of unity and rebirth for the name of this practice, it actually comes from events in 1974, when a pregnant California woman named Clair Lotus Day learned about the behavior in chimpanzees and began to question why humans don't do it. When she had her son, her obstetrician let her keep the cord intact until it naturally separated. Other birth advocates learned about it, and the practice spread.

While the placenta is attached, some people sprinkle herbs on it to help preserve it (and to help with any smell) and wrap it in gauze for easier transport and holding of the baby.

If you plan to encapsulate your placenta, lotus birth is not an option.

Proposed Benefits

Proponents of a lotus birth have various reasons for wanting to keep the cord intact.

Some claim it’s “gentler” to let things naturally unfold, while others say it allows complete transfer of umbilical cord blood and is more complete than delayed cord clamping. There may also be a very minimally lowered risk of infection to the umbilicus since you aren’t cutting the cord.

Medically, there is no reason to keep the umbilical cord intact after it has stopped pulsating, and no reason to keep the placenta attached to the newborn.

Benefits to the mother include the fact that she literally has to slow down in the first week or two of having her child. Having the placenta attached to your newborn forces you to do minimal movement and act purposefully and gently, which many people say is exactly what a new mother should be doing. The lotus birth encourages this, which encourages more maternal-child bonding as a result.

Risks

There are several known risks associated with lotus birth.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) in the UK does caution those who elect to have a lotus birth to be vigilant since there is risk of infection.

The placenta contains blood, and once the umbilical cord stops pulsating, circulation stops and the organ is dead tissue and can be prone to infection—which might then spread to the baby. Bacteria can proliferate in dead and decomposing tissue, which is why it’s typically disposed of.

There is a lack of scientific studies on lotus birth because it’s not a widespread or accepted practice here in the United States. It is generally discouraged by the medical community because of the risks, and so there are no experimental studies.

A Word From Verywell

If you decide to have a lotus birth, there are risks to the practice, and you should discuss your wishes with your birth team. It’s important to have your wishes be respected, but you should also be completely informed and aware about the risks and benefits of whatever decisions you are making.

Do your research from unbiased sources and get input from a variety of professionals. In the end, your choice is yours, but having factually correct information about lotus birth can help you make an informed decision either way.

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