Lotus birth: the popular birth trend that could cause infection in your newborn
More and more mums are choosing lotus birth to celebrate the wonders of childbirth. But experts warn that it carries serious health risks.
“Lotus birth” conjures up beautiful images of nature and serenity, but what it entails may be more dangerous than it sounds.
Lotus births are fast catching on among mums for their supposed nourishing and empowering qualities. In this popular birth practice, mums choose to keep the placenta attached, via the umbilical cord, to their baby after birth.
Typically, the umbilical cord is cut and the placenta removed immediately. In lotus births, however, mums wait till the cord naturally decomposes and falls off the newborn’s belly button.
For a few days, they carry the placenta about with baby in a small pouch or bowl. Mums may also treat it with salt and rub it with scented oils to help it dry out.
Lotus birth sounds unique but harmless — an interesting option for mums who want to celebrate the miracle of birth and the nourishing placenta. Advocates of lotus birth argue that it offers myriad emotional benefits, such as a special period of bonding time between mum and tot.
Dr Sarah Buckley, New Zealand family MD and mum of four, calls it a “beautiful and logical extension of natural childbirth.”
“[It] invites us to reclaim the so-called third stage of birth, and to honour the placenta, our baby’s first source of nourishment,” she says.
Dr Buckley has gone through lotus birth for her younger three children, after the “strange and uncomfortable feeling” of cutting her first child’s cord. “The feeling for me was like cutting through a boneless toe, and it felt good to avoid this cutting with my coming baby.”
She describes how her children have experienced cord-cutting as a form of emotional pain. Emma, she says, “remembered the unpleasant feeling of having her cord cut, which she describes as being ‘painful in my heart’.”
Thanks to these spiritual associations, lotus birth is becoming the perfect choice for new parents who see sacred qualities in the childbirth process.
On the health side of things, however, things are not so cut-and-dried.
It stands to reason that leaving a mass of decomposing tissue attached to your newborn poses risk of infection. Experts have pointed out that infection in the decaying organ can easily spread to the baby.
“The placenta is particularly prone to infection as it contains blood,” says Dr Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
“Within a short time after birth, once the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating, the placenta has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue.”
Dr Jennifer Guntner, American OB/GYN, puts it more bluntly. “Why anyone with an understanding of modern microbiology would promote leaving a newborn attached to dead, decomposing tissue that could be a [source of] infection is beyond me,” she tells ATTN.
“Bacteria grows very quickly in dead tissue and stagnant blood. Historically, [the placenta] has been discarded. I think if it had benefits, that wouldn’t have become the norm.”
There is some medical truth to the benefits of postponing cord clamping. Delayed umbilical cord clamping “increases hemoglobin levels at birth and improves iron stores in the first few months of life, according to a 2017 report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
However, the recommended delay time is around 30-60 seconds after birth — way below the hours, even days, that lotus birth calls for.
After these few seconds, the cord has completed circulating the last of its blood to your newborn, says OB/GYN Dr William Scheizer. It stops pulsing, collapses, and no longer has medical value, he tells LIVESTRONG.
The idea behind lotus birth may be beautiful, but the very real risks to your baby may make you want to rethink it. Mums who do choose not to sever the umbilical cord are recommended to watch their newborn for unusual symptoms or signs of infection.
Mums, what do you think? Have you tried lotus birth, or would you try it in future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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