Umbilical Cord Trend: Lotus Birth Practices Keeping Placenta On Baby, 'Umbilical Nonseverance'

A new holistic birthing practice gaining popularity among new parents involves keeping the umbilical cord and placenta on the baby for several days after birth, reportedly providing numerous health benefits.

The New York Post has reported on the holistic trend of Lotus birth, or "umbilical nonseverance," where the umbilical cord and placenta are left attached to the newborn until the cord detaches naturally, usually in three to 10 days. According to Mary Ceallaigh, a Lotus birth supporter and midwife consultant who spoke to the Post, a Lotus birth can reduce the chance of infection for a newborn because there's no wound created as there is when the cord is cut.

Ceallaigh also says keeping the placenta intact "allows a complete transfer of placental/cord blood into the baby at a time when the baby needs that nourishment the most. Babies’ immune systems are going through huge changes at a very rapid rate when they’re first born." The reduced chance of infection and better nutrition could help prevent diseases in the future. 

In a report by ABC News, Dr. James Van Hook, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said temporarily delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord could lead to one last influx of blood containing stem cells and immunoglobulin that could, in theory, aid in the baby's ability to fight infections; but he notes that theory extends to a temporary delay, as in minutes, vs. several days.

Ceallaigh first learned about the practice of umbilical nonseverance from Jeannine Parvati, a prenatal yoga expert, notes the Post. She described the process as an old tradition practiced in Bali.

She says that carrying the placenta around is not a burden as parents usually do not have to worry about errands or chores in the days immediately after childbirth. The placenta is wrapped in cloth while the umbilical cord is wrapped in a cotton ribbon or silk. According to Ceallaigh, the umbilical cord and placenta do not have a pungent odor; he describes the smell of placenta after two or three days as "slightly musky." During nursing or cuddling, the placenta can be kept in a special bowl or pillow, she said.

Ceallaigh hopes to educate the public about the value of Lotus birth and dispel any myths surrounding the practice. She says, "That respect of physiological and biological integrity is a worthy area of research and education. There is such a thing as birth and postpartum ecology," adding that 5 percent of her clients choose to participate in umbilical nonseverance.

Dr. Hook said he would not advocate against a Lotus birth but recommends that any practitioners take extra care to keep the area around the umbilical cord clean to reduce the chance of infection.

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