If you search the Internet for information on lotus births, you’ll quickly see that there are lots of detractors and naysayers out there. Champions of conventional wisdom have labelled it everything from “a crazy fad” to “reckless” and “disgusting”1.
But for those of us who want to live in a kinder, gentler world, the practice of leaving a newborn baby attached to the placenta is where it all begins.
The practices of lotus birth are not new. They were first brought to the notice of the Western world by an American woman, Clair Day, in the mid-70s, and extended into the developing social psyche of the era by Jeannine Parvati2, a strong proponent of natural healing and physical and spiritual health in women. But they have been a part of indigenous cultural practices for centuries. While still not widely embraced by modern society, a growing number of women (around five percent of current births3) choose a lotus birth as a natural extension of their home birthing options.
Advocates of the lotus birth believe that not cutting the cord and leaving bub attached to the placenta has a host of benefits, not many of which can be scientifically documented by conventional medicine. Not least of these, it stops the unnecessary nursing of the baby by lots of different people, giving the entire family time to really bond and get to know the new arrival. Also importantly, it allows the transfer of an extra 40-60 ml of blood to the baby, an amount the infant system needs to work to replace4.
In my experience, the whole birthing environment was calm and unhurried, and my daughter responded in kind. And contrary to conservative opposition, the placenta does not ‘rot’ or ‘stink’ when left attached to the baby. Proper care and treatment of the placenta5 involves draining, rinsing, salting and wrapping it on a daily basis, which keeps it odour-free.
In fact, it’s best not to advertise the fact that you plan to delay the cutting of baby’s cord, even to your closest friends. Dealing with the negative emotions of friends and family can have a damaging effect at a time when all your efforts should be focused on you and your new family member.
I have to confess, when my midwife first suggested the idea of a lotus birth I was a little squeamish. We were only a couple of weeks away from our planned home water birth and there were still lots of preparations to put in place. But during those two weeks, as my nesting instincts kicked in, I became calmer and more open to the ultimate gentle birth process.
The night before my daughter’s arrival, the birthing pool stood in the middle of our spare room half filled with water, ready for the hot water to be added to bring it up to body temperature. We’d had some issues getting it pumped up and, under protest, my dad had actually finished inflating it only the day before. But my baby girl decided that she wasn’t waiting around and only two hours before her birth, I found myself ordering the midwife to fill the bath – the one in the bathroom.
Though it was smaller and much less amenable to helping hands, I lay on my stomach and relaxed into the warm water, amazed at the relief it brought with each strengthening contraction. I stoically refused all requests to turn over, really unable, and unwilling, to interrupt my focus. Consequently, my daughter was born face up in the water and her nose broke the surface of the shallow bath sooner than we had hoped. Once she and her placenta had emerged, though, I was able to transfer into the redundant birthing pool with my husband and six-year-old son, who had been present for the whole experience. It was a very special time of bonding for our new family.
The midwives attended to the placenta, drying it, salting it and wrapping it in a clean cloth. At first I was concerned that my daughter would accidentally bump the drying cord and injure her navel, but she never did. It was like she knew it was there. We even managed daily baby massages around it, an experience she appeared to revel in.
When friends and family arrived to welcome her, we didn’t mention the ‘extra package’ that was discreetly tucked inside her wrap. Only a few of them were any the wiser. And those that had a problem with it simply stayed away. Their loss and our gain, in time alone together.
In the days that followed I bathed my daughter in shallow water to keep her navel area dry, and gave her daily apricot kernel oil massages. She was born mid-summer, so loose, light clothing was all that was required. Despite the fact that it involved a lot more work, I insisted on using very soft cloth nappies loosely secured with Velcro pilchers, but even these didn’t cause any irritation. A winter baby would need to be dressed in clothing that had an opening at the front to allow for the cord to pass through.
Once it had been washed, patted dry and liberally salted, the placenta was wrapped in a soft towel, placed in a bag and nestled inside the baby wrap. Baby and placenta were treated as one neat package, and even those who knew what we had chosen to do barely noticed it was there. It actually kept those with negative feelings about lotus birth away and we were able to share those first few precious days with people who loved us and shared our philosophy.
Almost immediately after her birth, and once the midwives had left us to our bonding, I resumed ‘normal duties’. My husband prepared meals and looked after our son, but I got stuck into mum stuff – cleaning up. It was a big mistake. Three days after the birth, I developed a fever and felt nauseous. My midwife had called in to check on me and instantly demanded that I cease all activity and lie down. I distinctly remember her telling me, in no uncertain terms, that all this energy I had was meant for my baby, not housework. I took my daughter to the bedroom with me and lay down with her beside me.
Then, the most amazing and awesome thing happened. She opened her eyes and looked deeply into mine. All kinds of love poured over me and my nausea suddenly disappeared. Then, with total purpose, she reached out with her left foot, grabbed the shrivelled up cord between her tiny toes, and pulled it free from her body with one tug. She looked back at me, and as I realized my fever had also disappeared, she dropped off to sleep again. The process was complete. She was really here.
It had been just three days since her birth. Within the first 24 hours, the umbilical cord had very quickly withered and dried into a largely inflexible shape that looked a bit like a length of electrical wiring. It was more difficult to deal with as it grew stiffer, but we managed all manner of care activities without any dramas.
Once it had separated, we placed the placenta in the freezer until we could decide how best to dispose of it. I would have liked to plant it along with a small sapling as we’d done with our son’s several years earlier. But having no permanent place of residence in Australia at the time, this wasn’t an option. We finally chose to return it to nature by giving it to the ocean. Since my daughter had been born in the sign of Aquarius, this seemed particularly fitting. The night we flew back to Tokyo, we held a small ceremony on the coast, thanking the Earth for our beautiful experience and our beautiful little girl.
Has this had any noticeable effect on her? Is she different to other people? She was the ‘best’ of babies – calm, quiet and agreeable. She’s all grown up now, a confident, intelligent and conscious young woman that I’m so very proud of.
And I’m glad for our decision not to cut her cord. It gave us time together that can never be reclaimed. It gave her the gentlest birth I’ve ever witnessed. It gave me a sense of total peace in my heart.
If you’re thinking of a lotus birth for your next child, do your homework, prepare well, and find a sympathetic midwife. As I mentioned before, not all the information available on the Internet is helpful, but these two sites and the book listed below, and the people behind them, are definitely on your side. I highly recommend them and wish you the right decision.
Rachana, Shivam, 2013 Lotus Birth: Leaving the Umbilical Cord Intact (available at http://www.amazon.com.au/Lotus-Birth-Leaving-Umbilical-Intact-ebook/dp/B00CSU7PK8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1452299278&sr=8-2&keywords=lotus+birth)