Parents Are Embracing This Peculiar Birthing Trend With Questionable Benefits

May 19th 2017

While not the most glamorous part of child birth, the placenta being delivered is the final step in the process. Traditionally, it's discarded as medical waste, with the umbilical cord that connects it to the baby being snipped, often by an excited father.

However, there's a rapidly growing birthing trend among young parents where they are delaying cutting the cord for days, letting it detach from the placenta on its own.

It's called "lotus birth," and it's caught on among parents who believe it conveys remarkable, almost magical benefits to their newborns.

But medical professionals caution that lotus birth is medically risky and scientifically unsound, with no compelling evidence that the baby benefits from having what's essentially a discarded organ attached to them for days on end.

While the lotus birth is often linked to traditional Eastern medicine, putting off cutting the cord for days on end is a strictly Western practice. It was developed by '70s midwives looking for a natural birth ritual free of medical intervention.

It's hard to tell how many women are actually practicing lotus birth, but tons of photos of parents and baby come up when searching #LotusBirth on Instagram.

According to those who practice and advocate for it, lotus birth facilitates an intense bond between mother and child, far more than the usual contact brought by nursing and cuddling. It's also claimed to help babies fight off infection, severe jaundice, and immune system diseases by keeping the baby attached to the mother's blood.

One British mom who practiced two lotus births, Adele Allen, went viral with a post on xoJane claiming that keeping the cord attached allows, "precious nutrients such as iron and stem cells [to be] delivered to the baby’s stores, providing an optimal chance for survival and growth."

She goes on to say that "the physical benefits of not cutting the cord include optimum immune protection and reduced risk of infection as no open wound is created," and that, "other benefits are, in my opinion, of a more spiritual nature." Midwives often refer to these benefits as "metaphysical benefits," such as honoring the placenta for its role in feeding a growing baby, and paying tribute to the way other mammals give birth.

However, Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a women's health practitioner called "Twitter's resident gynecologist" for her prolific social media presence, had a different opinion of lotus birth. Unsurprisingly, it was short on metaphysical benefits, and long on science.

Allen points out that research does show the benefits of keeping a baby attached to an umbilical cord for at least a short time after birth, and that the placenta can easily be kept fresh and sanitary by curing it with rock salt and essential oils. When the baby is ready to be done with it, they simply pull the cord out, as she says her son did.

"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," Gunter told ATTN: in an email.

Gunter is one of many physicians and experts who decry lotus birth as a stunt, a first world affectation done for public show, but with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Amy Tuteur, a gynecologist who blogs as the "Skeptical OB," called lotus birth "a bizarre practice with no medical benefit and considerable risk, particularly ... massive infection" and a study in 2016 found at least one lotus birth baby had to be readmitted to the hospital with liver problems.

Gunter particularly emphasized the risks in her email to ATTN:. Because the placenta is "dead tissue," it can no longer convey the nutrients that lotus birth proponents say it does. However, that doesn't mean it's safe. "Bacteria grows very quickly in dead tissue and stagnant blood," Gunter added.

There's simply no compelling evidence that extended cord clamping has any benefit commensurate to the risk it carries, and no ethical way to study whether it's beneficial to babies.

And while it's true that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends a slight delay in cutting the cord, in order to pass stem-cell rich blood from the mother to the baby, a paper from the group marks that time as 30-60 seconds, not days.

"Historically, [the placenta] has been discarded," Gunter told ATTN:. "I think if it had benefit, that wouldn't have become the norm."

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