By Danielle Rush, BSN, R.N. | Published on March 31, 2023
Lotus birth has been trending on social media. Experts weigh in on what it is, benefits, and risks.
Social media has been shining light on alternative birthing practices, and one of the latest—lotus birth—has been trending. This practice of umbilical cord non-severance has more than 80 million hashtag hits on TikTok alone and videos of parents who have opted for a lotus birth are ranking up likes.
“The idea of lotus birth is a novelty within our conventional cultural landscape, so it’s an easily sensationalized topic,” explains Trixie Kioko-Kamps, a certified nurse midwife from Oula, a midwifery practice based in New York City.
But lotus birth is not a new concept. It came to the mainstream as an alternative practice in the 1970s by Clair Lotus Day after she observed a chimpanzee allowing the placenta to stay attached to its baby.
As lotus births trend on social media, experts weigh in on what pregnant people need to know about this holistic practice.
What is a Lotus Birth?
Lotus birth is an alternative childbirth practice where the umbilical cord remains uncut, and the newborn stays attached to the placenta. A lotus baby and the placenta will usually naturally separate in anywhere from five to 15 days.
The practice requires special care of the placenta after birth. It’s typically washed, salted, and wrapped to be kept dry with an absorbent material such as a cloth diaper. Herbs or essential oils are also used to help limit any foul odor the placenta produces.
Lotus Birth Benefits
There are documented benefits of delayed umbilical cord clamping, including improved transitional circulation, and for those reasons the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends waiting at least 30-60 seconds after birth to cut the cord. But similar benefits have not been scientifically proven for lotus births.
“Because I cannot measure or point to quantitative ‘hard’ data on the benefits of a lotus birth, the benefits that I see are directly linked to the benefits my patients have defined/see for themselves,” says Kioko-Kamps.
The placenta is commonly called the “afterbirth,” a term that perhaps insinuates “afterthought” for many birthing people. But for others, the placenta is much more than an organ; it is the powerhouse of pregnancy, the seat of nutrition and life-giving oxygen, and the bridge between parent and baby. It’s for these reasons, some parents choose to honor it and allow their baby and the placenta to remain intact.
Different practices like this one may also help birthing parents feel empowered, especially while dealing with a maternity system that feels, for many, to be anything but patient-centered. “The concept of somebody not entering that space that is super sacred to you and having somebody not do any of the things that we are used to doing appeals to people,” says Megan Fendt, a certified nurse midwife from Oula.
Lotus Birth Risks
As a parent-to-be, you will be hard-pressed to find practitioners in the mainstream medical community who support lotus birth. Potential infection risk is the primary concern. A 2021 case report in Pediatrics found serious infections can occur, although the overall complication rate is unknown.1 There are also no formal recommendations or guidance from medical or clinical organizations on lotus births.
David Berger, M.D., a pediatrician and founder of Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care, has cared for a few lotus babies in his 25 years of practice. He says he’s never had a lotus baby under his care develop an infection, but he still explains the risk of one to patients.
The report in Pediatrics points out pediatricians may generally be unfamiliar with lotus birth and unable to provide recommendations for best practices. But it’s important for the cord to be kept clean and dry if one decides on a lotus birth. And it’s critical to always look for signs of infection.
“If the skin where the umbilical cord is connected were to become red, warm, and/or with pus, then there would be a concern that there is a bacterial infection that can become serious since newborns have an underdeveloped immune system,” explains Dr. Berger. “If there were a fever, then I would say there is a true emergency. If there was such an infection, the baby would then be hospitalized on IV antibiotics.”
Is a Lotus Birth Right for Me?
If you decide that a lotus birth, or any alternative birthing method, may be right for you, Kioko-Kamps says it’s important to discuss your options with your medical provider. It’s important that you feel comfortable with them and feel they are respecting your choices. If not, looking for another provider may be best for you. She also recommends you connect with people who have had similar experiences. And then, ask questions like these below:
- What was your experience?
- Are there any newborn infections or other complications that you would associate with it?
- What should I be thinking about if I choose to do this?
- Would you have another birth like this? If so, would you do anything differently? If not, why not?
This can help parents-to-be make the best decision for themselves. In terms of lotus birth, for instance, Dr. Berger notes the extra placenta care “is one more thing a new parent needs to worry about.” And Fendt emphasizes the need to be “honest with parents that are already going to be sleep deprived and trying to navigate life with a newborn that this is just going to be an additional task that they may not want to take on.”
But the bottom line, says Fendt, “if it is important enough to people that they are willing to put that work in, then go for it.”