What Is a Lotus Birth?

Also Known as Umbilical Cord Non-Severance

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Lotus birth is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord attached to the placenta (the organ that develops during pregnancy and provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus) until the cord naturally detaches on its own. Cord detachment can take from a few days to a week or more.  

In a lotus birth, the placenta (sometimes called the afterbirth) remains attached to the baby instead of being separated by cutting the umbilical cord. It is often wrapped in fabric or kept in a bag or bowl. Usually, parents treat the placenta with herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and salts. The herbs help to dry out the placenta and decrease odor. 

The practice is uncommon, and there has been little research on it. Learn about how it’s done, why some parents choose it, and whether it’s safe.

Newborn baby lies on their parent’s bare chest

Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

How It Works

During a lotus birth, the umbilical cord is left attached to the baby and the placenta after delivery. Following birth, the newborn is placed on the parent’s chest or abdomen until the placenta is delivered. The placenta is then placed in a bowl or a blanket and kept near the infant. 

The parent and baby take plenty of time to interact and bond during a lotus birth. Newborns might have their vitals checked while lying on their parent’s chest. Otherwise, cleaning, weighing, and other newborn procedures occur following the bonding period, which may last an hour or longer.

After the bonding period, the placenta is dried and treated with herbs. It is then rewrapped and kept near the baby. The cord usually dries and falls off within 10 days. Since the placenta and cord can be awkward to carry around, the parent and newborn are usually homebound until the cord detaches.

Why It’s Done

Some people choose a lotus birth because they view the placenta as belonging to the baby. Believers in this practice do not see the placenta as a medical by-product but rather an extension of the baby that they feel should disengage independently.

The human practice originates from a California woman named Clair Lotus Day, who, in 1974, chose to imitate the behavior she had observed in apes. The practice spread, with followers also pointing to apes as an example of lotus birth in the wild. However, research into placentophagia (eating the placenta) has shown that all primates consume the placenta shortly after birth.

For some people, lotus birth is a spiritual or ritualistic practice. Keeping the baby and placenta connected following birth may be seen as allowing a natural process to unfold without unnecessary intervention.

Some even feel that prematurely separating the cord can cause the baby psychological trauma, although there is no evidence to support this theory. Unmedicated childbirth and home birth are popular among parents who choose lotus birth.

Lotus Birth vs. Delayed Cord Clamping

Lotus birth should not be confused with delayed cord clamping. Lotus birth leaves the placenta and baby fully attached for days following the birth. Delayed cord clamping, on the other hand, is when, instead of clamping and cutting the cord immediately after birth, the healthcare provider or midwife waits for 30 seconds to a few minutes to do so. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) support delayed cord clamping until the newborn is placed on the parent and assessed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends waiting at least 30-60 seconds after birth to clamp and cut the cord.

The benefits of delayed cord clamping include:

  • Higher hematocrit levels (the ratio of red blood cells to total volume of blood)
  • Higher iron levels in infancy
  • Improved transitional circulation in the infant after birth
  • Better establishment of red blood cells in the newborn
  • Decreased need for blood transfusion
  • Lower rates of necrotizing enterocolitis (an extremely serious disease of the intestines)
  • Lower rates of intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in and around the ventricles of the brain)

When cord clamping is delayed, there is a slight increase in the incidence of jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes caused by high levels of a pigment in the blood called bilirubin). However, since the numerous benefits outweigh the risks, major medical organizations recommend delaying cord clamping except in cases of medical emergencies. 

While the touted benefits of lotus birth are primarily based on personal accounts, delayed cord clamping is an evidence-based practice, relying on the most recent research. There is insufficient scientific evidence to support lotus birth.

Is It Safe?

Since the research on lotus birth is scant, it is difficult to say whether lotus birth is safe. Due to the lack of research regarding safety, the United Kingdom–based Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommended against the practice in 2008. RCOG’s main concern with lotus birth is the potential risk for infection.

Since there is no evidence-based research on clinical outcomes of lotus birth, risks are speculative rather than factual. Mainly, a theoretical risk exists regarding infection. Since placental tissue is dead after delivery, there is a chance that it could become infected and then spread to the baby.

In one reported case, a newborn presented with neonatal hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) following a lotus birth, which clinical and lab data suggested was due to an infection. The case implies that lotus birth may be a risk factor for neonatal hepatitis.

Considerations

If you decide to have a lotus birth, keep the placenta near your baby, and be careful not to tug or pull on the cord. Dress your baby in loose-fitting clothes that have an opening around the umbilical cord. In addition, be aware of signs that may indicate an infection.

Seek medical attention if you notice:

  • Redness, warmth, or swelling around the umbilical cord
  • Fever
  • Your baby feeding poorly
  • Your baby sleeping more than usual

If you decide you want to cut the cord, after all, do not attempt this on your own. Have your healthcare provider do it for you. 

A Word From Verywell

If you consider having a lotus birth, keep in mind that it is not a recommended, evidence-based practice, and it may carry certain risks, such as infection. Delayed cord clamping, on the other hand, is evidence-based and offers numerous health benefits. Delayed cord clamping may be an alternative to consider.

If you decide on a lotus birth, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about your decision. Be prepared to carefully handle your baby and the attached placenta in the week or so following birth. Keep an eye out for signs of possible infection in your newborn so that you know when to seek medical care if necessary. 

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