PARENTS
04/12/2013 06:42 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2013

Lotus Birth: Does Not Cutting The Umbilical Cord Benefit Baby?

Is there a new trend sweeping the all-natural birthing community?

It's called a "lotus birth," and it involves leaving the umbilical cord attached to your baby -- rather than separating it at birth -- and letting it fall off naturally, on its own schedule, if you will. That schedule can range from three to 10 days, depending on the humidity in the air. The placenta remains attached to the other end of the cord for that time frame, as well.

The New York Post suggested earlier this week that the practice is becoming increasingly popular among women, and other news outlets promptly followed suit in declaring the lotus birth a full-on trend.

Mary Ceallaigh, a midwife, made the case to the Post that leaving the umbilical cord attached to the baby longer is a healthier choice. "There’s no wound created at the umbilical site, which lessens the chance of infection," Ceallaigh told the Post. "It allows a complete transfer of placental/cord blood into the baby at a time when the baby needs that nourishment the most. ... Not disrupting the baby’s blood volume at that time helps prevent future disease."

So should parents be jumping on the lotus birth bandwagon? Is there a even lotus birth bandwagon to jump on?

Both of those issues are somewhat up for debate. Hilda Hutcherson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, told Yahoo! Shine, that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that leaving the umbilical cord attached would provide health benefits to the baby.

Said Hutcherson:

There has been research in the past few years which found that when doctors delay clamping the cord for three minutes, the baby receives higher levels of iron which prevents anemia, but beyond that time frame, leaving the cord attached to the baby serves no purpose because it no longer feeds nutrients to the baby.

Indeed, researchers at the University of South Florida found in 2010 that leaving the cord attached for a short amount of time after birth can be beneficial, especially for pre-term infants.

Experts have also argued though that leaving the umbilical cord to fall off on its own is not without risk. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) released a statement outlining some concerns in 2008, after a small number of women in the United Kingdom started practicing lotus births.

“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," Patrick O'Brien, an RCOG spokesperson, said at the time. "The placenta is particularly prone to infection as it contains blood. At the post-delivery stage, it has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue."

Regardless of the potential merits and drawbacks, leaving the cord attached is not new to the natural birthing world. As Sarah Buckley, an Australia physician who advocates for lotus births, points out on her website, a woman named Clair Lotus Day from California began to question cutting the cord back in the 1970s. "Her searching led her to an obstetrician who was sympathetic to her wishes and her son Trimurti was born in hospital and taken home with his cord uncut," Buckley writes.

Lotus births later spread in the U.S. through the advocacy of Jeannine Parvati Baker, a midwife and yoga master.

As for whether more women in the U.S. are currently choosing to leave the cord attached these days? That's hard to say. There doesn't appear to be solid data available on how common the practice is. Ceallaigh, for one, told the Post that only 5 percent of her patients opt for a lotus birth -- not exactly a sweeping trend.

What do you think? Have you heard about more women having lotus births? Tell us in the comments section below.

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