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. 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. This unusual practice is often touted as being more “natural” and more “peaceful" for both parents and baby, but lotus birth isn’t without its share of controversy or risk.

In fact, medical experts advise against lotus birth, citing the potential for infection. Additionally, other drawbacks of this practice include the potential for a foul smell as the placenta and cord decay, the care needed to dry out the placenta (including regularly salting it), and the cumbersome nature of caring for a baby with the placenta still attached.

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 of Lotus Birth

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. Additionally, while some people may worry that cutting the cord could cause pain for the baby, that's not the case. There are no nerve endings in the umbilical cord so the baby does not feel anything when it is cut.

Benefits to the parent could include the fact that they literally have to slow down in the first week or two of having their child. Having the placenta attached to your newborn forces you to do minimal movement and act purposefully and gently, which some people say will encourage more parental-child bonding as a result.

Risks of Lotus Birth

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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3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nolt D, O’Leary ST, Aucott SW. Risks of infectious diseases in newborns exposed to alternative perinatal practicesPediatrics. 2022;149(2):e2021055554. doi:10.1542/peds.2021-055554

  2. National Institutes of Health. Could cutting the umbilical cord too soon stress newborns?.

  3. Gönenç İM, Aker MN, Ay E. Qualitative Study on the Experience of Lotus Birth. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2019;48(6):645-653. doi:10.1016/j.jogn.2019.08.005

Additional Reading

By Jaime R. Herndon, MS, MPH
Jaime Rochelle Herndon, MS, MPH, MFA, is a former writer for Verywell Family covering fertility, pregnancy, birth, and parenting.