New Trend: The Lotus Birth

Elise Solé

Cutting a newborn's umbilical cord is a routine procedure, but a practice called the "Lotus Birth" teaches that doing so can be bad for babies. It entails leaving the cord attached to a baby and carrying the connected placenta in a container until the cord falls off on its own. 

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On Wednesday, Mary Ceallaigh, 47, an Austin, Texas based Lotus Birth advocate and Midwife educator told the New York Post that leaving the baby attached to its umbilical cord is not only a "beautiful thing," it provides crucial nutrients to infants and prevents infection and disease.

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"There’s no wound created at the umbilical site, which lessens the chance of infection," says Ceallaigh. "It allows a complete transfer of placental blood into the baby at a time when the baby needs that nourishment the most. Babies’ immune systems are going through huge changes at a very rapid rate when they’re first born. Not disrupting the baby’s blood volume at that time helps prevent future disease. The mother and baby benefit from having all the focused placed on bonding, rather than the common focus of 'who's going to cut the cord, cut the bond?' Invading the natural process when there's a healthy mother and baby is likely to cause harm in some way seen or unseen."

Ceallaigh, who could not be reached for comment, told the New York Post that after carrying the placenta for about three days, the cord (which can also be wrapped in silk or a cotton ribbon) will naturally fall off. "No mother would be running errands during that time anyway...hopefully not until at least the fourth week after giving birth!" she says.

However, if weather conditions are humid, it can take up to ten days for the cord to break. When the mother has to use the bathroom, Ceallaigh suggests she can place the baby on a safe surface or with a caregiver. During cuddling and nursing, the jar is simply set aside next to the mother.

As for any unpleasant side effects, Ceallaigh, who’s assisted in more than 100 natural births, says odor is not a problem, at least for the first day. "There’s a slight musky smell the second and third day. After the cord breaks, some mothers like to keep the wrapped placenta in a special place in their bedroom, and if it has not had a salt or herbal treatment and its cloth isn’t changed, it will start to smell gamey, indeed. But the kind of terrible, stinky, decayed smell that some fear is a non-issue when proper procedures are followed. The only time that sort of thing happens is if the placenta is wrapped in a plastic wrap or sealed in a Tupperware container— that is a whole other situation, and not a good one, as the placenta will rot before it dries."

Should moms resist cutting the cord? “I've never heard of the Lotus Birth but there’s no scientific evidence that leaving the umbilical cord attached to the baby provides any sort of benefit,” says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University. “There has been research in the past few years which found that when doctors delay clamping the cord for three minutes, the baby receives higher levels of iron which prevents anemia, but beyond that time frame, leaving the cord attached to the baby serves no purpose because it no longer feeds nutrients to the baby.” 

There’s also the practicality factor. According to Hutcherson, many new moms are running errands, spending time with friends, and taking walks before the end of the four-week period that Ceallaigh suggests women take to completely relax. Carrying around a jar of placenta may not be so realistic  especially when both hands are necessary to tend the baby.

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