New parents can be overwhelmed taking care of a newborn, but one birth consultant thinks one way to help parents cope is by literally not cutting the cord.
Mary Ceallaigh, a birth consultant and doula from Austin, Texas, is preaching the benefits of “umbilical nonseverance” which involves letting the umbilical cord fall off naturally after birth. Ceallaigh, 47, says the practice is also called having a “lotus birth” can help mothers and babies bond.
“It is a trend getting more notice in western culture particularly among holistically inclined people,” said Ceallaigh. “[It's] just as another way to create optimal beginnings for babies.”
While the practice may seem like a new-age remedy gone haywire, Ceallaigh says the ritual actually comes from traditional Balinese practices. Parents care for the newborn, while also lugging around the baby’s attached placenta.
“A lot of people they don’t understand that the baby, the placenta, they’re all made from the same cells,” said Ceallaigh. “It’s not some kind of waste material the body produces separately.”
When the umbilical cord is not cut, it naturally seals off after about an hour after birth. The umbilical cord and attached placenta will fully detach from the baby anywhere from two to 10 days after the birth.
Dr. James Van Hook, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, says if doctors momentarily delay clamping the umbilical cord there is a chance that newborns can get a final transfusion of blood cells rich in stem cells and immunoglobulin that theoretically can help the infant fight off infections. However, Van Hook cautions in those cases the umbilical cord is clamped within a few minutes of birth, not left to close off naturally.
“On one hand we want the safest possible delivery on the other hand it’s a natural process,” said Van Hook. “It’s an area [where we need]to figure out how to balance the joy of having a baby with safety.”
According to Van Hook, the riskiest aspect of “lotus births” is ensuring that the area around the umbilical is kept clean so that there is no risk of infection and that the placenta and umbilical cord don’t impact the baby’s care.
But while not traditional, Van Hook says he wouldn’t mind letting the parents decide if they want to have a “lotus birth” as long as there were no underlying medial issues.
“If I was taking care of a patient, that’s some of the choices people make,” said Van Hook. “They’re empowered to make their choices.”