LOTUS BIRTH – A Gentle Beginning
by Sam Pearson
Lotus Birth is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut after the third stage of labour so that the baby remains attached to both cord and placenta until they naturally separate from the umbilicus. This practice, named after the woman who brought it to the western world, Clare Lotus Day, is sometimes referred to as the fourth stage of labour, nonseverence or the second birth.
Lotus Birth is practiced by some Indigenous Australian tribes, the Kung tribe in Africa and occurs in some parts of Russia and India. Some species of monkey also do not sever their baby’s cords. However, cutting a baby’s cord once the placenta has been birthed is a widespread and ancient practice. Lotus Birth is a new tradition in the western world, and while uncommon is becoming more popular as many parents are returning to natural birth practices.
In past times there have been some very good reasons for severing the cord when a baby was born. It was essential from a survival perspective to avoid attracting predators, so placentas along with all other traces of birth were quickly removed. Detaching the cord and placenta also meant that a new mother was more mobile in the event that she did have to flee from a predator.
Another reason for cutting the cord was hygiene. When living in isolated tribal situations, new mothers and their babies were not vulnerable to infection. Eventually, humans began living in larger communities however it was some time before large populations were managed hygienically. Today, unless you are living in unclean conditions, and particularly if you are birthing at home amongst familiar germs, infection need not be of concern. There are no recorded cases of infection with Lotus Born baby’s cords or placentas. When a cord is cut, an opportunity for infection is created. While this risk is very small it is completely avoidable with a Lotus Birth.
A third reason we traditionally cut babies cords is cultural. Practices throughout history such as not allowing a baby to take colostrum, binding a baby, early weaning and cutting cords, interfered with the early mother/infant attachment. Detached practices previously served the purpose of creating more aggressive people and, therefore, superior warriors. This was advantageous when conquering the natural world and other tribes, and meant survival of our own group of people.
Lotus birth slows down the process after birth, bringing awareness to the needs of the baby, allowing intimacy and integration to occur. Lotus Birth is seen as a way of prolonging the birth of the baby, extending their transition into the world in order to make it as gentle and gradual as possible. Lotus born babies seem to be very aware of their placenta and will sometimes flinch, even when asleep, if their placenta or cord is touched. Parents report that their Lotus babies are more serene than most newborns and notice a definite change in their demeanour when their cords detach. Some cultures believe that energy passes between the baby and its placenta long after the placenta has ceased to be a functioning organ. No matter what significance the parents see in leaving the placenta attached it seems that a common impact of Lotus Birth is the difference in the way the baby is treated.
Some parents, while not following through with a complete Lotus Birth, are choosing to delay cutting of their baby’s cord. The baby continues to get oxygenated blood from the placenta even after the centre of the cord stops pulsing. Umbilical cords can continue to pulse at the umbilicus for much longer than the centre of the cord – about two to three hours longer. The deeper vein remains open and it is believed that the babys body closes the umbilical vein when the babys blood volume has reached the right levels. Waiting until the placenta has stopped functioning altogether means there is no need to clamp before cutting because all the vessels have closed naturally.
Care for the cord and placenta during a Lotus Birth.
After the third stage of labour, the placenta is inspected as usual to check that is it intact. Care must be taken to keep the placenta fairly level with the baby until the Wharton’s jelly, a rich source of stem cells, has solidified, hence no more blood transfusion is occurring. This occurs several minutes after the cord has stopped pulsing. The placenta is drained for the first 24 hours in a sieve over a bowl kept next to the baby. After this the placenta should be washed in warm water ensuring blood clots are removed and gently pat dried. At this stage the placenta can simply be placed on a clean cloth and left to air dry naturally. It is usually salted daily to improve the drying process and wrapped in a cloth. Sometimes essential oils, dried flowers or powdered spices can also be applied for preservation. The placenta may be kept in a placenta bag made especially for the purpose. The placenta will become drier, smaller and lighter every day and the cord will become brittle until it falls off naturally.
Care should be taken when handling the baby to ensure the placenta remains close to the baby to avoid tugging on the cord. It is best to dress the baby in loose clothing that fastens at the front. Nappies should also be kept loose with extra nappies underneath your baby if required. When feeding or cuddling your baby ensure the placenta is carefully placed to avoid it slipping. Babies appear to be sensitive to when their placentas and cords are being touched. It is important to treat placentas gently and remember to create a peaceful environment during this time of transition.
Nearly everyone can have a Lotus Birth if desired. The only medical reason for cutting a baby’s cord is if the cord has torn or in the incidence of placenta previa. Whether you are having a homebirth or a hospital birth you have the right to request that the cord not be severed. Caesarean section babies can be removed from the womb with their umbilical cords and placentas intact and unclamped.
The average time for a Lotus Birth baby’s cord to come off naturally is three to ten days after the birth. Research has found that there is a direct relationship between the time the cord is cut after birth and the number of days it takes for the navel to heal. When the umbilical cord is cut immediately, the average length of time required for the navel to heal is 9.56 days. When cut after the cord stops pulsing it is an average of 7.16 days. When later, as happens in a Lotus Birth, the average time is 3.75 days.
Personal preference determines what happens to the placenta after it has detached from the baby. Once the placenta separates it can be further dried to preserve it indefinitely or placed in a freezer to keep for future use. It can be wrapped in a breathable piece of cloth to dry out naturally, or the process can be hastened by using an oven, the sun, or a dehydrator. The dried placenta can be powdered and encapsulated for postpartum nutritional Chinese medicine. Some families choose to honour the placenta by burying it and often perform a ritual, which may include planting a tree over the placenta. If doing this with a placenta that has been salted it is best to choose a species that is tolerant of high levels of salt in the soil such as a native coastal plant.
Today, there are no medical or cultural reasons for cutting a baby’s cord. It could be said that for the future preservation of our species and planet it is sensitive rather than aggressive people that are needed. We are learning that a close attachment with our mothers as a child is vital if we want to raise adults who honour their natural instincts and who care for others and our planet. One way we can achieve this is by abandoning our detached parenting practices and embracing gentle ways of life. As life starts with birth the best way of making changes towards a more nurturing world is by beginning with the most gentle of births and continuing with the most attached and gentle parenting.
“Lotus Birth” – (AUS)by Shivam Rachana is available from Greenwood Press
“Prenatal Yoga & Natural Birth” – (USA) Jeannine Parvati Baker
Equipment for a Lotus Birth
Supplies for a Lotus Birth are very straight forward and what you have on hand in your own home will suffice. A common supply list would include:
– A large bowl to birth the placenta in.
– A large sieve to strain the placenta for the fist 24 hours.
– A bunny rug, terry cloth nappy or other fabric to use as a placenta cloth.
– Sea salt, dried flowers, dried herbs or essential oils if desired.
– A placenta bag if desired.
A placenta cloth is used to wrap a babys placenta during a Lotus Birth. It can be made of any breathable fabric and often a cloth nappy is used. A placenta cloth serves to absorb fluid and contain any salt, herbs, spices or dried flowers that have been used to pack the placenta to aid the drying process.
Many parents choose to enclose the placenta either on it’s own or wrapped, in a placenta bag. The mother-to-be usually prepares a placenta bag as part of her preparations during pregnancy. It can be as simple as a clean pillowslip or custom made with a cord cover. It must be large enough to contain the fresh placenta and larger if you plan to pack the placenta with salt and cover with a placenta cloth before placing into the bag. It can be made from any breathable fabric and of any design that pleases the mother. Some are very plain and others intricately decorated perhaps with motifs that are symbolic to the baby’s family. A placenta bag might also be borrowed and some are used over and over, shared by friends and washed and stored after use to be saved for another Lotus Birth.
Physiological benefits of delayed cord cutting include:
– More maternal antibodies received by infant.
– The baby receives full benefits from the placental blood including platelets that clot the blood, plasma (proteins of the blood), white cells to fight infections, red cells that have iron and carry oxygen to all cells, stem cells that replace worn out cells, hormones and enzymes and iron reserves.
– Less Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS), especially in premature infants.
– Less chance of infant brain damage (i.e., cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, autism).
– Higher infant blood pressure.
– Less need for blood transfusions for premature infants.
– Less chance of organ damage from schema in premature babies.
– Improved infant renal (kidney) function.
Some reasons parents choose a Lotus Birth include:
– Improved breastfeeding success rate.
– Possible faster healing of the umbilicus.
– To avoid unnecessary risk of cord infection.
– Because the parents don’t want to cut the cord, preferring a completely natural intervention-free birth.
– No need to worry about clamping or cutting the cord.
– Respect for the baby and placenta/spiritual reasons.
– Encourages maximum mother/baby bonding.
– Facilitates baby mooning by limiting visitors (many will prefer to wait until the cord separates).
– To promote mother/baby attachment, less passing around of the baby.
– To allow the most gradual and peaceful transition into this world for the baby.
– Baby is kept very still, the environment kept very quiet and mother gets maximum rest.