The Popular Birth Trend That Could Put Your Baby in Danger

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The term "lotus birth" sounds peaceful, and it's taking social media by storm ... but what is it? Moms who choose lotus birth don't allow for the baby's umbilical cord to be cut or the placenta to be removed immediately after birth. Instead, a full lotus birth means allowing the placenta to detach from the baby when the umbilical cord naturally decomposes and falls off baby's tummy. But while some moms are writing essays on why they don't want to cut the cord and posting images of their infants with the placenta still attached on Instagram, the issue isn't exactly cut-and-dried in the medical community.

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Typically moms who opt for a lotus birth will tote the placenta around in a small bag, even wrapping it into baby's swaddle. To help the placenta dry up, many will apply salt throughout the day and use essential oils to mask the smell. Others keep the placenta in a basin of water. Supporters of the practice believe keeping babies attached to the placenta offers physical and emotional benefits, but there are lingering questions about how safe it is.

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The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued a statement against the practice of keeping babies connected to their placenta all the way back in 2008, when an increasing number of British moms started asking doctors and midwives to let them put off cord-cutting. The docs didn't pull any punches at the time, noting moms have the right to make medically informed choices about their own bodies, but they did cite an infection risk to babies if the placenta isn't detached.

"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 RCOG's docs said. 

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Fast-forward to 2012, and popular blogger and ob-gyn Dr. Amy Tuteur, who goes by the Skeptical OB online, published her own take-down of lotus birth, calling it "the wackiest childbirth practice ever."

Her take on the trend, which is also known as "non-severance" birth, is that it's "a bizarre practice with no medical benefit and considerable risk, particularly the risk of massive infection."

Nevertheless, the practice still has its advocates -- and not just among the moms Instagramming their lotus births. Dr. Sarah Buckley, an MD from Australia, has become popular in natural birth circles in part for her book, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor's Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices. She's written about her own lotus births (she's a mom of four), with cords that detached anywhere from three to six days after birth and placentas they later planted beneath a tree.  

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Buckley calls the practice "a beautiful and logical extension of natural childbirth [that] invites us to reclaim the so-called third stage of birth, and to honour the placenta, our baby's first source of nourishment."

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Doula Mary Ceallaigh, who describes herself as a "midwifery consultant" online, even named her business -- Lotus Fertility -- after the practice, which she refers to as "neonatal umbilical integrity" on her website. On the site, Ceallaigh breaks down the two kinds of lotus birth. The short version, where the cord is cut four to six hours after birth, is common around the world, Ceallaigh says, while the "full" version that's been getting the most attention lately is less common but has a long history.

There has been movement in the medical community of late that seems to shift a bit more toward the idea of a lotus birth: the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologysts (ACOG), as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Nurse–Midwives, all came out in early 2017 behind delayed cord clamping, which means allowing the cord to remain uncut for a period after birth, letting all of the cord blood pump its way into baby. 

However, delayed cord clamping is still supposed to occur within 30 to 60 seconds after birth (and in some cases up to two minutes or longer), per the ACOG recommendations. And many doctors (and midwives) will decline to allow the practice of lotus births because there's been little study showing medical benefit. 

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As Dr. Robert Atlas, chair of obstetric and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, tells CafeMom, "The function of the placenta is essentially over the minute the placenta detaches and stops pulsating and sending blood over to the newborn. There is no medical benefit to the mother or the newborn to continue to allow the umbilical cord to be attached to the placenta. 

"I can use the example of animals," Atlas adds. "When the animal delivers in the wild, they do not leave the placenta attached to the calf (or whatever the animal is called); the mother actually eats the placenta to get rid of the blood and remnants of a birth to try and decrease the smell that may attract predators."

If that vision doesn't have you rethinking lotus birth, Atlas has this to add: "I don't think there is any increased risk of infection, but dying tissue smells horribly."

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