One of the standard early postpartum procedures has been to clamp and cut the baby’s umbilical cord without second thought. The truth is there is no physical benefit to cutting the cord early, it is completely unnecessary and can actually be quite harmful for both mother and baby. The procedure of clamping the cord immediately after birth was originally implemented by hospitals for the purpose of using less time in the delivery room. By quickly moving mother out of the delivery room, the space would become available sooner so it could be cleaned and set up for the next birth. The other purpose of implementing this procedure was to decrease the doctor’s time at the birth. So sadly room availability and doctor’s scheduling have become more of a priority than allowing proper blood re-distribution after birth. Thankfully, knowledge about the short-term and long-term benefits of delayed cord clamping is finally making it into practice. Midwives and in some cases obstetricians are realising the importance of allowing the placenta to finish circulating blood before intervening.
During pregnancy the placenta does the job of the lungs by exchanging oxygen between the baby’s and the mother’s blood system. Before birth, a third of the baby’s blood volume is still in the placenta. In the minutes after birth, both mother and baby are bathed in an ecstatic cocktail of hormones. At this time the ongoing production of the love hormone oxytocin is enhanced by skin-to-skin, eye-to-eye contact, and by the baby’s first attempts at suckling. These high levels of oxytocin will then create the necessary uterine contractions to assist in the birth of the placenta, also known as the third stage of labor. Proper blood re-distribution happens when the baby and placenta remain attached and the placenta blood is able to transfer through the pulsing cord into the baby, increasing the baby’s blood volume. This is very important because it allows the baby to effectively begin breathing on her own and it increases the number of circulating red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the baby’s body. The transfer of blood volume from placenta to baby usually takes a few minutes after birth. Textbooks usually say 2-7 minutes, but I have seen cords pulsate for longer than that. A good way to know the transfer was successful is to feel the cord. Once there is no more blood circulating through, the cord will stop pulsating and it will feel and look limp. Then it would be a better time to clamp and cut the cord. Waiting to cut the cord until it stops pulsating will most definitely prevent the baby from being deprived of that significant amount of blood that belongs to her and will also decrease the mother’s chances of hemorrhaging which often happens when the placenta is forced out by pulling on the cord increasing the chances of retained placenta fragments (this can also have distressing consequences on your milk production later on).
Taking this a step further, Lotus Birth is not cutting the cord at all. In a Lotus Birth, baby remains attached to the placenta until the cord naturally separates at the belly bottom, exactly as a cut cord does, anywhere between 3-10 days after birth when baby decides to let go. I have personally experienced Lotus birth with my second son Lucas. He was born at home on May 16, 2009. His placenta was big and beautiful and it fit perfectly in the tie-dyed placenta bag that I had sewn. Soon after the birth, we wrapped his placenta in a thin cloth then in the placenta bag. Every 24 hours, we cared for the placenta by patting it dry, coating it liberally with sea salt, and a few drops of lavender oil. As the days passed, Lucas’ cord dried from the umbilical end, and became thin and brittle. The placenta also dried and shriveled due to our salt treatment, developing a meaty smell that interested our cat! Lucas’ cord separated on the fifth day while one of our friends was over visiting. She came to drop off some food with her son who was just about six months old at that time. We believe that the presence of that other baby (who was no longer attached to his placenta) encouraged Lucas to let go of his loyal womb companion that day. We planted his placenta under a fragrant gardenia tree on his third birthday, which he helped plant and loves taking care of.
To most people Lotus Birth might seem extremist and somewhat disgusting but the truth is that it is something quite beautiful and actually softens the birth experience allowing birth to go back to a safer, more natural state. Like water birth, there seem to be only positive effects of Lotus Birth on a baby and her family. They are all unseen and can only be felt. Keeping the cord intact facilitates that baby and placenta stay on the sacred altar of the family bed, visited only by the closest family and friends. This keeps baby in the security of the family and slows down the pace of life. It also prevents the baby from being passed on from visitor to visitor disrupting the bonding should be taking place in those early postpartum days. Nobody goes shopping with a newborn and placenta in tow! In fact, a mother does little more than go to the bathroom anyway. As the cord is kicked off, baby is gently showed around the house and maybe to a few close friends. In appropriate timing, baby is taken outside and introduced to the stars, the moon, the sun and the rain.
I believe cord cutting perpetrates the idea that even normal birth requires medical help. This frantic need to immediately cut the cord is one of the many unnecessary and harmful practices of modern birth in our culture and I feel it creates a false sense of fear in birth. There is no hurry to cut the cord, or even to cut it at all.
The beautiful Lotus Birth Mandala above is the art of the very talented Amy Swagman. Click here to check out her Etsy store.
Here are some pictures of my lotus baby, Lucas and his womb friend almost 4 years ago!!! Sigh, they grow way too fast! I am so glad we decided to have a Lotus Birth.