Characteristics, Risks, and Benefits of a Lotus Birth

Some families feel that lotus birth respects the sacredness of childbirth, but they may be taking a huge risk. Continue reading to find out more.
Characteristics, Risks, and Benefits of a Lotus Birth

Last update: 09 May, 2021

Many women feel that modern childbirth is no longer emotional and spiritually significant, so more and more are seeking other options, like a lotus birth. However, it’s important to remember that what transformed childbirth into an extremely medicalized, methodical, and controlled hospital procedure was the desire to decrease mortality (death) and morbidity (illness) of mothers and babies.

Adequate care of mothers and babies is a priority of the World Health Organization (WHO). Applying evidence-based health interventions has reduced the approximate lifetime global risk of maternal death from one death per 73 women to one per 180.

This is why parents need to be well informed when deciding how they want to bring their child into the world. This includes non-evidence-based practices such as lotus birth.

What’s a lotus birth?

This kind of birth centers on leaving the umbilical cord intact after the baby is born. The baby will remain attached to it and the placenta until it detaches on its own. This usually occurs between the third and tenth day after birth.

The placenta requires washing to remove any remaining blood and people usually wrap it in an absorbent material, such as a diaper. Finally, the attending person rubs it with salt and aromatic herbs to regulate its humidity and prevent unpleasant odors.

The origin of this practice

Lotus birth takes its name from Clair Lotus Day, who in 1974 observed that newborn chimpanzees naturally separate from the placenta. This raised questions about the way we deal with this during birth.

The purpose of the umbilical cord and placenta

Pregnancy couldn’t happen without the placenta, since it acts as a barrier and prevents the maternal immune system from attacking the baby as if it were a foreign body.

In addition, oxygen and all the nutrients the baby needs for their own development come from the mother through the placenta and the umbilical cord. Furthermore, they’ll be able to get oxygen into the blood through their own lungs once they’re born.

A baby inside the placenta.
The placenta nourishes the baby while they’re inside the womb.

Benefits attributed to lotus birth

The first expected benefit of lotus birth is to keep the child from developing anemia as there won’t be any interruption in the passage of blood from the placenta. There’s also a presumption that there’s no risk of infection since the umbilical cord is still attached.

Let’s be clear in that these are mere hypotheses as there’s no scientific evidence to support them.

Why do some families choose lotus birth?

However, the main reason why mothers and fathers choose lotus birth is none of the above. They do so because they see it as an alternative that attempts to add spiritual significance to the moment of birth.

From the lotus birth perspective, the placenta is a sacred organ, a symbol of life, fertility, and an unbreakable bond between mother and child. This practice vindicates the right of the mother and her newborn to choose the conditions of birth.

The impact of a lotus birth on a baby

From the point of view of lotus birth, the umbilical cord and placenta form a unit with the newborn and the newborn must decide at what point they’re ready to separate.

Some believe that preserving the placenta and umbilical cord prevents subjecting the baby to the trauma of abrupt separation from their mother and the organ that protected them during pregnancy. Likewise, parents report spending more time with their babies as it’s difficult to move them while still attached to the placenta.

The risks of lotus birth

At this point, you may be wondering why lotus birth isn’t the rule if it’s so good. As mentioned above, there’s no scientific evidence in favor of it as a safe and useful practice.

In fact, lotus birth is risky and most professionals discourage it. As long as there’s no solid evidence in favor and there are reports of cases in which it posed a danger to the newborns, it’s neither ethical nor feasible to recommend it.

Contrary to the expectation that there’s no risk of infection for the baby by not cutting the cord, the decomposing placenta can actually become a source of bacteria. There are reported cases of omphalitis (infection of the umbilicus) and sepsis (infection of the blood).

In addition, an uncontrolled and permanent flow of blood from the placenta can lead to jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), polycythemia (too many red blood cells causing increased blood viscosity), and thrombosis.

Recommendations regarding lotus birth

Keep the following in mind when deciding under what circumstances your child should be born:

  • Inform yourself through credible sources and clear any doubts and concerns with a doctor you trust.
  • The method of delivery (vaginal or cesarean) will depend on your health history, the development of the pregnancy, and the baby’s well-being. It’ll be easier to decide if the gestation control was judicious and you underwent all indicated tests.
  • Don’t have the baby at home unless yours is a low-risk pregnancy. That is as long as there’s no evidence that the mother or her child is at risk.
  • Easy access to a health center is key. The functioning of the health network isn’t the same in all countries. Thus, up to 40% of low-risk pregnancies can complicate at the time of delivery.
  • Doctors highly recommend preparing for childbirth and this includes the birth plan and prenatal courses.

Active management of labor and delivery

Postpartum hemorrhage remains the most common cause of maternal death. Active management of labor or the third stage of labor is a vital intervention to prevent this complication.

Active management refers to three behaviors:

Delayed cord clamping

The WHO also recommends delayed umbilical cord clamping. It consists of not clamping or cutting the umbilical cord immediately but waiting at least one minute after the birth of the baby to do so.

The exception is newborns who require respiratory support as delayed cord clamping prevents anemia and other serious illnesses that can affect them.

Respectful maternity care

The recommendations of international organizations for pregnancy and childbirth care aim to treat the mother with dignity and respect. They also protect her privacy, confidentiality, and integrity.

The objective isn’t only to prevent maternal morbidity and death but also to empower women and vindicate their rights. This process begins before conception and continues after the baby is born.

Humanized childbirth

Skin-to-skin contact is crucial during the first hour to facilitate breastfeeding after birth. Mainly when the mother is well and the baby born without complications,

The attending nurse places the newborn on their mother’s abdomen, dries them, and evaluates their breathing. Meanwhile, they wait a few minutes before clamping the cord. They then will cover the baby with a cap and a dry blanket.

They don’t skip other routine care, only postpone it until after the first hour of a baby’s close contact with their mother.

A woman giving lotus birth.
The medicalization of labor reduced the risk of death of mothers and their babies. International organizations do recommend the humanization of the process.

Lotus birth isn’t a good idea

Despite the absence of any scientific evidence to support the lotus birth, one cannot ignore the fact that parents who’ve experienced it consider it a positive experience they’d like to repeat.

This is partly because our human feelings, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and spirituality are an essential part of our life. Medical knowledge, on the other hand, often focuses on the biological and physical, neglecting other needs.

Medical care doesn’t have to be synonymous with cold, dehumanized, or traumatic childbirth, though. There are ways to reconcile the holistic needs of the mother, father, and child that don’t pose any health risks.

Parents must investigate and verify the characteristics of the care provided as part of their preparation for childbirth. Lotus birth isn’t recommended, but many health centers apply some very kind, human, and spiritual alternatives.

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