You’ve heard of hospital birth, unmedicated birth, home birth and water birth… but have you heard of lotus birth? Here, we take a look at lotus births, why some parents choose this experience, what the health benefits might be — and what risks might be involved.
What is a lotus birth?
The term “lotus birth” actually doesn’t have anything to do with the birth of the child at all — until after the third stage of labor, the placenta delivery. In the most basic terms, a lotus birth means that after a baby is delivered, the umbilical cord isn’t cut. At all. Instead, the placenta remains attached to the baby until the cord dries up and naturally detaches a few days after birth.
Umbilical cord non-severance means that the parents must tote the placenta around along with their baby, and they typically don’t just leave it as is. Instead, the placenta is treated with salt and/or herbs to help dry it out or help it smell better, because it does tend to give off a meaty scent.
Are there any health benefits?
In short, no. While it may sound like an unusual practice, particularly in a society where newborns are promptly separated from their placentas ASAP after birth, proponents claim there are benefits to be had from a lotus birth.
Some argue (note: not medical professionals) that lotus birth promotes bonding due to the fact that the placenta is still attached to the baby. Parents really don’t want to lug their baby and her placenta around (and jostling and movement should be kept to a minimum anyway), so there is ample opportunity to relax with your wee bub. Each of the medical professionals interviewed for this article took the same position: That there are no health benefits to lotus births.
Are there any risks?
Not only are there no health benefits to lotus birth, but infection is a huge risk. In fact, Dr. Rob Atlas, chairman OB-GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, says that he has declined to allow moms in his care to have a lotus birth.
“The function of the placenta is essentially over the minute the placenta detaches and stops pulsating and sending blood over to the newborn,” he says. “There is no medical benefit to the mother or the newborn to continue to allow the umbilical cord to be attached to the placenta.”
Dr. Marina Maslovaric, an OB-GYN at HM Medical in Newport Beach, California, agrees: “It is an unusual practice with no medical benefit and considerable risk, particularly the risk of massive infection.”
These doctors are not alone. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the U.K. has issued a statement on lotus birth, and while they recognize that it may be appealing to some, there are risks involved. According to their statement, Dr. Patrick O’Brien, RCOG spokesperson, notes, “The placenta is particularly prone to infection as it contains blood. Within a short time after birth, once the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating, the placenta has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue.”
Also, lotus birth has also been associated at least once with neonatal hepatitis (which may have been due to an infection).
Delayed cord clamping & cutting
What is not controversial is the act of delaying the cord clamping and cutting. Immediate cord clamping and cutting is a practice, post-delivery, that was once widespread, but has recently fallen out of favor among parents as well as many caregivers. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends delayed cord clamping and cutting for all healthy infants, which means caregivers wait at least 30 to 60 seconds before severing the cord so the placenta can continue to pump blood into the baby’s body after birth. Benefits for the baby include increased hemoglobin and higher iron stores for the first few months of life, which can help prevent iron deficiency.
While delayed clamping and cutting may be beneficial, the fact remains there has been no scientific evidence that lotus birth has any health benefits whatsoever, and in fact, can be risky for the baby’s health. As with any practice that may impact you or your baby’s health, it’s best to consult with a professional first.