Lotus birth is the practice of birthing the baby and placenta, and leaving the two attached until the cord falls off on its own. Anecdotally, this can take 3 to 10 days, though there’s no research to prove it.
This is in contrast to the conventional practice of clamping the cord to cut off circulation a few minutes after the baby is born, and eventually cutting the cord to detach baby from the placenta.
Practices like lotus birth are believed by some to be traditional in history and are common in some modern cultures. However, its modern resurgence in industrial societies is credited to Claire Lotus Day in 1974. Day promoted lotus birth after she observed that anthropoid apes don’t sever their infants from the placenta.
The lack of intervention in lotus birth has attracted people in the natural birth world. It’s believed by them to be gentle and beneficial to the baby. There’s hardly any research on lotus birth or its risks and benefits. Most information comes anecdotally from individuals.
Read on to learn about this process, including benefits, risks, and how to have a lotus birth.
According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the optimal time for cord clamping has been debated for more than 50 years. It used to be believed that early cord clamping (within one minute of birth) was more beneficial to the newborn and mother. However, a vast amount of high-quality research has proven against that belief.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends waiting at least 30 to 60 seconds before clamping the cord. The World Health Organization recommends waiting one to three minutes before clamping the cord.
The only case where delayed cord clamping is not recommended is if the infant is born in some kind of distress and needs immediate medical attention.
Lotus birth vs. delayed cord clamping
Delayed cord clamping is now the recommended practice globally. It’s standard practice in hospitals and home births to first clamp the umbilical cord to stop blood flow, and then sever the baby from the placenta by cutting the cord.
For both term and preterm infancy, delayed cord clamping has been shown to:
- increase hemoglobin levels
- improve iron stores over the first few months of life
- improve red blood cell volume
- improve circulation
- decrease need for blood transfusion
- decrease risk of necrotizing enterocolitis and intraventricular hemorrhage
There’s a slight increase in the risk of jaundice with delayed cord clamping, but the benefits are considered to outweigh the risk.
While there’s much research to promote the practice of delayed cord clamping, research on the benefits of lotus birth is limited to small case studies.
Since there’s no solid research on lotus birth, it’s unclear if the practice is actually beneficial. It could be that delayed cord clamping provides all of the post-birth benefits from the placenta and that nothing beyond that is necessary.
Proponents of lotus birth believe it may lower the risk of infections because it does not cause an injury to the cord. However, it can also increase the risk of infection because, after birth, the placenta is a dead organ with stagnant blood. There’s not enough research to say how much higher the risk of infection may be with a lotus birth.
Lotus birth can also be a spiritual practice to honor the relationship between the infant and its placenta. If you want to honor the placenta but aren’t sure if lotus birth is right for you, there are other rituals you can use, like burying it in a special ceremony.
Practitioners of lotus birth claim the practice to have these benefits:
- a gentle, less-invasive transition for the baby from womb to the world
- increased blood and nourishment from the placenta
- decreased injury to the belly button
- a spiritual ritual to honor the shared life between baby and placenta
There’s no research to support the first three claims. The placenta receives its blood supply from the mother, and once the placenta is birthed, it’s no longer living or circulating. So, it’s unlikely that keeping the baby and placenta attached can really provide any benefits.
A lotus birth might be helpful or necessary if you have an emergency birth situation and are waiting for medical attention. For example, if you deliver during a hurricane when streets are flooded and you can’t get to the hospital right away, keeping the placenta attached to the baby may reduce your risk for complications while you wait for help. That’s because cutting the cord yourself can risk hemorrhage and infection.
If you’re in an emergency situation, always try calling your local emergency services to speak with someone who is trained to help you.
There’s limited research on lotus birth, so it’s unclear if the practice is safe. There’s also not enough research to inform how exactly to treat the placenta and avoid risks while waiting for it to detach.
Once out of the womb, blood stops flowing to the placenta. At this point, the placenta becomes dead tissue prone to infection. Because the placenta is still attached to the baby, an infected placenta can infect the infant.
Additionally, the baby risks injury of the cord accidentally being ripped away from their body. This is known as cord avulsion.
One case study of a full-term baby linked lotus birth with hepatitis in the baby, but more research is needed to understand the potential connection.
Since a lotus birth leaves the baby and placenta attached via the umbilical cord, your postpartum experience and newborn care will look slightly different than after a conventional birth.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind for a lotus birth:
- You can still hold your baby right away after they’re born.
- The placenta is usually birthed within 5 to 30 minutes after the baby.
- You’ll need a sterile place to catch and carry the placenta.
- You must still put your baby in a car seat if you drive, even with the placenta attached.
- The placenta will slowly dry out and decay, and eventually, the cord will fall off from your baby’s tummy.
- The placenta will probably have a smell as the blood sits stagnant.
- Some people report rubbing salt and herbs on the placenta as it dries out.
- Keeping the placenta attached is in no way a replacement for feeding your baby. Because the placenta is no longer attached to the mother, it does not provide nutrients to the baby. Newborns feed at least every two to three hours.
- Baby clothing will need to have an opening in the middle, so snap closures will be more helpful than zipper fronts.
- While you want to keep your baby clean, we don’t know if it’s safe or not to give your baby a bath with a lotus birth. Consider sponge baths while you wait for the placenta to detach.
When you’re pregnant and building your birth team, you’ll have many conversations and questions to cover with your healthcare providers. Like interventions and pain relief, lotus birth should be a question you discuss thoroughly before you’re in labor.
Most doctors and hospital midwives have standard practices based on research and conventional training. You won’t know what their standards are unless you ask first.
Most healthcare providers will not perform a lotus birth delivery because of the lack of research. The major maternal and fetal health organizations don’t even have statements on lotus birth because it’s so rare and not well understood.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the United Kingdom advises against lotus birth. You’re much more likely to have a lotus birth if you have a home birth with a midwife who has experience with it.
Because the health of you and your baby is on the line, doctors and midwives alike must choose what they’re comfortable with doing, and advise you accordingly. Remember that just because something is believed by some to be natural or even safe, this does not necessarily make it so. It may be even less safe if your doctor or midwife is unfamiliar with the practice.
If you find a healthcare provider who will allow you to have a lotus birth, be sure to ask for a thorough history of their experience with the practice. Ask many questions and do as much research as you can. Some of your questions should include:
- How do I dress and carry my baby if the cord is still attached?
- How do I improve the safety of the practice?
- How many times have you helped someone have a lotus birth?
- What are all of the risks?
- How do I treat the placenta while still attached?
- What do I do if I see signs of infection?
Lotus birth is the practice of not cutting the umbilical cord after birth and, instead, letting the placenta stay attached until it falls off naturally. It’s believed to be a gentle ritual that comforts the baby. However, there’s very little research to prove any benefits, and there is, in fact, a great possibility of infection and injury to the baby.
Before choosing a lotus birth, ask your doctor or midwife for their recommendations and experience with the practice. If you decide to have a lotus birth, work with a practitioner that’s experienced with this birthing method.