A new umbilical cord trend is sweeping the news cycle this week, with reports of increasing popularity for what is known as a “lotus birth” in which the placenta and baby are not unnaturally severed for as long as it takes for all that bloody, goopy mess to decompose on its own.
If the umbilical cord trend sounds like the most ridiculous extreme of natural childbirth you’ve heard to date, you’re not alone. While the homebirthing, breastfeeding for an extended period, making your own baby food caucus can get a bit woo-woo, we’re probably all thinking the same thing here. Do I really need any more junk to carry around with a newborn? Is it actually possible within the bounds of physics to launder more linens?
But as with anything that sounds like “the way nature intended it to be,” people are indeed choosing to lug a rotting bit of bodily-expelled organic material no longer performing a vital function because childbirth makes people weird, man. Can we point out here that even animals seem to gnaw the stuff away after their litters are delivered and no one has ever seen a wildlife documentary with baby animals dragging filthy placentas about the plains?
The umbilical cord trend isn’t even a new concept, and back in 2008, the Royal College of Gynecologists in the UK were forced to actually write and release a statement about the lack of data on potential complications of the lotus birth phenom, which seems a bit silly given that one of the first instincts we have is to dislike decomposing organic matter expelled from our bodies.
In the statement, RCOG spokesperson Patrick O’Brien said:
“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. 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.”
Instead of using the words we would have gone with on the umbilical cord trend (that the idea is “really dumb, for real”), the RCOG exercised some classic British restraint in actually validating this insanity and respecting what seems a clearly biologically unintuitive practice:
“While the RCOG fully supports normal birth and believes that every woman should have the right to make informed choices about her birth and afterbirth options where appropriate, the safety and wellbeing of the mother and baby is paramount.”
An obstetrician and skeptical blogged about the lotus birth trend a while back and explained more directly:
“[Lotus] birth is the decision to leave the placenta attached to the baby for several days until it rots off. It is a bizarre practice with no medical benefit and considerable risk, particularly the risk of massive infection.”
So it seems that the precise answer to the question of whether the new umbilical cord trend is safe is “get a grip, people.”