Lotus birth, also known as umbilical non-severance, is the increasingly popular practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut after childbirth. In this way, the baby is left attached to the placenta until the cord naturally falls off 3 to 10 days after birth (the number of days depends to a great extent on the humidity in the air). The name ”Lotus” derives from Clair Lotus Day, who was pregnant in the 1970s, and began to question the standard procedure of cutting the umbilical cord. Her search led her to an obstetrician who was sympathetic to her wishes and her son Trimurti was born in hospital and taken home with his cord uncut. What started as a grass-roots movement by UK midwife Amanda Burleigh nearly a decade ago, has recently grabbed the attention of medical doctors around the world.
The umbilical cord is necessary for fetal blood circulation (see illustration below). Through the umbilical cord, your baby’s lungs receive oxygen from your maternal circulation via the placenta. After birth, the umbilical cord is clamped. This is to increase the oxygenated blood to flow to your newborn’s critical organs like the heart and brain, instead of going to now unnecessary structures like the placenta.
Pros: Proponents of lotus birth state that, since there is no wound created at the umbilical site, the chance of infection may be lower. It also allows continued transfer of placental/cord blood into the baby at a time when the baby needs that nourishment the most. Indeed, researchers at the University of South Florida found in 2010 that leaving the cord attached for a short amount of time after birth can be beneficial, especially for pre-term infants.
Cons: Although your newborn could survive with the placenta intact and his or her umbilical cord would eventually fall off on its own, this decreases the baby’s ability to fight infectious and environmental stresses. The reason is that, as the tissue in the placenta naturally decays, the blood flow to the placenta will gradually reduce but germs in the placenta will be able to enter the baby’s circulation via the umbilical vein. This can be very serious and potentially harmful to the baby.
The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists does not endorse the practice of delayed cord clamping but rather suggests cord clamping should take place between 30 to 60 seconds after birth, since the ideal timing for cord clamping has yet to be established. And the World Health Organization recommends umbilical cord clamping be performed from one to three minutes after birth.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists released a statement outlining some concerns in 2008, after a small number of women in the United Kingdom started practicing lotus births: “If left for a period of time after the birth, there is a risk of infection in the placenta which can consequently spread to the baby. The placenta is particularly prone to infection as it contains blood. At the post-delivery stage, it has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue,” and the RCOG strongly recommends that any baby that undergoes lotus birthing be monitored closely for infection.