What is a Lotus Birth and What Ob Gyns Have to Say About It
These days giving birth has seemingly become more complicated. The rise of women’s empowerment means no more laboring on your back, strapped to a bed, following orders. There are so many options for a birth plan now that any family can craft a meaningful and special experience for bringing their baby into the world.
When you are working on your birth plan there are so many questions to answer. Will you have a home birth? If not, would you go to a birthing center or a hospital? Do you want pain medication? What will happen if labor stalls? All of the questions don’t stop once the baby is born either. You can decide what to do immediately after their arrival, do you want to try to breastfeed immediately? How long before you let visitors come? Who will be allowed in and when? One question that has come up a lot recently is what do you want to do about the umbilical cord? Up until a few years ago if you had a baby in the hospital your options were limited to “should the doctor cut it or should the father?” but things are changing and more and more hospitals and birthing centers are opening up the option of a Lotus Birth, or a non-severance birth.
While traditionally in hospital settings most babies in the hospital have their umbilical cord tied off and severed, in recent years a trend has taken hold to let the cord detach itself naturally after the placenta has been delivered and the cord dries out and breaks off on its own. Called a Lotus Birth or a non-severance birth, the baby is kept attached to the placenta until the cord falls off on its own. This can occur up to a few days after birth. During the time parents are waiting the placenta is kept and carried with the baby everywhere they go, including riding in the car, sleeping, and while they are being fed.
Proponents claim that having a lotus birth is less traumatizing to the baby, providing a gentler entrance into the world. They also claim health benefits in the form of, increased blood flow from the placenta, increased hemoglobin levels, improved iron stores for the first few months of life. The general idea is that cutting the cord before it dries up and comes apart on its own is somehow traumatizing to the baby or causes the baby to “miss out” on important nutrients. Some women who have had a Lotus Birth have claimed spiritual or metaphysical benefits of the practice, but it is hard to say whether anyone will experience these in the same way or not.
It may seem like common sense that the placenta should remain attached until it naturally dries up and comes apart from the cord, especially since it has nourished and helped your baby the whole time they were in your womb. However, since the placenta is no longer nourishing your baby and in fact, doesn’t even have blood flow once it is delivered opponents charge that these benefits can be achieved with just delayed cord clamping, that is waiting to clamp and cut the cord until after the placenta is delivered. Some hospitals will allow you to wait up to an hour to cut the cord, but most are only willing to wait until it has stopped pulsing or until the placenta is no longer attached to the mother’s body.
If you’re aiming to have a lotus birth you may be segregating yourself to home birth and even then it may be difficult to find a midwife who will participate as the risk for infection increases daily when the placenta is still attached but no longer functioning. Even if you find a midwife who is willing to monitor you and your baby through this journey, it’s important to keep the placenta as sterile as possible by keeping it in clean dressings and maybe even staying home during the time you’re waiting so that you don’t have to expose it to the outside world while it is still attached to your baby.
Most birthing centers and hospitals are still heavily against allowing a Lotus Birth as there are no current scientific studies showing the full picture of benefits vs. risk and the risk of infection in a newborn is much more of a concern to them than any claimed benefits. While they may let you delay clamping and cutting for a while, they often will not be so flexible after the placenta is delivered and you may run into a situation where a doctor begins making choices for you, which isn’t a great situation for anyone to be in.
Before deciding on a Lotus Birth make sure you know what all is involved. Ask yourself how comfortable you are with the prospect of having to carry a decaying placenta with you everywhere, what you will do about the smell (that some describe as mild, but others found more offensive), what are the signs of infection and what will you do if they surface? Did you also plan to consume your placenta and how will this affect those plans? What will happen if your labor goes wrong and you have to have a c-section or other intervention? How will your partner and family react and are you ready for possible conflicts?
Even though there isn’t much science on the side of Lotus Birth, you may still feel that cutting the cord immediately is not right for your baby. There is a middle ground of delayed cord cutting and this may be a great compromise between you, your partner, and your medical team. Be sure to bring this up in advance though, as springing the idea last minute is bound to cause some confusion and drama.
Regardless of what you choose, bring up any concerns or ideas you have with your midwife, doctor, or other birthing partners to make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands the birth plan fully, not just the what, but the why of the things you’re requesting.