Cutting the umbilical cord, a father’s sacred duty, has recently been supplanted by a more “natural” approach—leaving the cord uncut as the veiny placenta, still attached to the new baby, rides home from the hospital in a colorful carrying case. This latest trend, dubbed “Lotus Birth,” is new enough that there are no statistics on its apparently growing popularity. But we do know it’s been around a while and has caught on in very specific circles. And we also know that’s it’s a potentially dangerous practice.
Health care professionals around the world have panned the practice and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists issued a warning against attached placentas back as 2008. “There is currently no medical evidence that it is of benefit to the baby,” RCOG spokesperson Patrick O’Brien wrote in the 2008 statement. “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. Within a short time after birth, once the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating, the placenta has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue.”
In 2013, vaccine denier and “free-range” parent Adele Allen described her experience with lotus birth as, “a lovely six-day period of bonding and closeness.” She went on to describing washing and wrapping the placenta, which was kept in a waterproof pouch. And perhaps it would be lovely (#LotusBirth on Instagram sure is compelling), if the placenta wasn’t literally a decaying organ crawling with disease.
“Why anyone with an understanding of modern microbiology would promote leaving a newborn attached to dead, decomposing tissue that could be a source of infection is beyond me,” Obstetrician and Gynecologist Jennifer Guntner recently told ATTN.
So why do some parents swear by a practice that clearly opens a channel between decaying, diseased tissue and their newborns’ belly buttons? Some mothers claim to feel a spiritual attachment to the hunk of dead tissue. And that may be the case, but an emotional urge to retain a dying organ crawling with bacteria (and rosemary, apparently?) shouldn’t be conflated with an evolutionary instinct. This is presumably why lotus birthers tend to go one step further, arguing that cutting the umbilical cord too soon is bad for your baby.
That is actually kind of true. Studies suggest delaying clamping by a couple of minutes can prove beneficial, and raise newborns’ iron and hemoglobin levels. For premature infants, that can be especially helpful. That’s why many physicians are now advocating for DCC (delayed cord clamping).
“The evidence of benefit from DCC is so compelling that the burden of proof must now lie with those who wish to continue the practice of immediate clamping, rather than with those who prefer—as nature intended—to wait,” pediatrician Mark Sloan writes in Science and Sensibility.
But taking a beat before cutting the cord is not the same as waiting several days until the cord falls off by itself. The former constitutes sound medical advice. The latter decidedly does not.