These days, many expectant mothers are delving into alternative methods for birthing, searching for the best way to produce a happy, healthy baby (and, in turn, a happy, healthy mommy, too). Iran, for example, has seen a dramatic decrease in infant mortality rates in the last year, and this is believed to be directly correlated to the rise in mothers choosing natural child birth. In the U.S., on the other hand, the national cesarean rate has increased seven-fold: about one mother in three gives birth by cesarean section, making it the nation’s most common operating room procedure. Despite these figures, it does seem as though modern medicine is beginning to recognize traditional and ancient birthing methods. In 2014 the World Health Organization published a document explaining that delaying umbilical cord clamping by 1 minute can improve maternal and infant health and nutrition outcomes, along with providing many other benefits as well. This document outlines alternative birthing methods that highlight the importance of the umbilical cord-placenta connection.
A few years ago, a trial was conducted from April 16th, 2008 through May 21, 2010 which included 263 healthy Swedish full-term newborns who had been randomly assigned. Half the participants were to have their cords clamped more than three minutes after birth, while the other half were clamped less than 10 seconds after birth. Children were invited to return for a follow-up at 4 years of age.
The purpose of this study was to determine if any long-term effects would be evident after 12 months. Previous studies had examined babies in infancy and determined that infants who had been subjected to delayed cord cutting displayed higher levels of iron in their blood.
The study found that the children with delayed cord clamping showed a higher score in social skills and fine motor skills. Dr. Heike Rabe, a neonatologist at Brighton & Sussex Medical School in the United Kingdom, said that “the results in term infants are consistent with those of follow-up in preterm infants.”
Dr. Scott Lorch, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Director of the Center for Perinatal and Pediatric Health Disparities Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explains that the study’s results, while promising, are not concrete, since the study involved a mostly homogenous population and excluded infants born in distress. Delayed cord cutting has not been tested “in high-risk populations such as the low socioeconomic population, racial and ethnic minorities and those at higher risk for neurodevelopment delay.”
Previous research, on the other hand, focused mostly on preterm infants, who in fact benefit more from delayed cord clamping. They showed to have needed less drugs to support blood pressure and fewer blood transfusions, demonstrated less bleeding into the brain, and had a lower risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.
“There is growing evidence from a number of studies that all infants, those born at term and those born early, benefit from receiving extra blood from the placenta at birth,” said Rabe. When you delay the clamping of the cord, more blood is able to be transferred from the placenta to the infant, increasing the infant’s blood stores by up to a third in some cases. This in turn increases the infant’s iron stores, which are essential for healthy brain development. “The extra blood at birth helps the baby to cope better with the transition from life in the womb, where everything is provided for them by the placenta and the mother, to the outside world,” Rabe said. “Their lungs get more blood so that the exchange of oxygen into the blood can take place smoothly.”
Mothers who choose to go the natural route in the birthing process are familiar with the importance of the placenta. In fact, there is a method called Lotus Birthing which specifies the importance of the child naturally disconnecting the umbilical cord on their own.
A Lotus Birth is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord uncut, so that the baby remains attached to the placenta until the cord naturally separates at the navel, exactly as a cut cord does 3-10 days after birth. This practice is relatively new, having begun in 1974 with a woman named Claire Lotus Day. She studied the work of primatologist Jane Goodall, who noticed that chimpanzees did not chew or cut their offspring’s cords but instead left them intact; when they moved in the trees, the placenta would naturally detach. Sarah Buckley, author of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices, explains:
Lotus birth is a beautiful and logical extension of natural childbirth, and invites us to reclaim the so-called third stage of birth for our babies, and ourselves and to honour the placenta; our babies’ first source of nourishment.
This practice is not for the faint of heart and inhibits the mother and baby from engaging in a lot of activity. Dubbed the “babymoon” — the post-birth period when the mother and baby should be together exclusively, bonding and cocooning — it is thought to be greatly beneficial for both mother and child. Lotus Birth advocate and midwife educator Mary Caellaigh believes this non-traditional practice can help with the mother and baby’s health. Keeping the umbilical cord intact can lessen the chance of infection and allows the baby to receive an extra 50-100ml of their own blood: a complete transfer of placenta/cord known as the placental transfusion. This blood contains iron, red cells, stem cells, and other nutrients which will benefit the baby through the first year. “When one cuts the cord, the naval does not heal for at least two weeks,” Ceallaigh explains. Lotus believers say that letting the umbilical cord fall off naturally results in a perfect belly button and completely healed naval skin area.
“After six days of healing and bonding, we woke up one morning to find our baby Ulysses had gripped hold of the cord and detached it by himself, leaving a neat and healthy-looking belly button.” – Adele Allen
Unfortunately, this practice isn’t backed by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Their official stance is that, “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.” They strongly recommend that any baby who undergoes lotus birthing be monitored closely for infection.
This process not only entails that you carry the placenta with your baby everywhere the two of you go, but also that you ensure the placenta leaves the body naturally after child birth. In most cases it can take up to an hour or more for the placenta to leave the body, which is why an injection of syntometrine is administered once the cord has been cut. This lessens the risk of post-partum haemorrhage, which was once the most common cause of death in childbirth. Most natural birth advocates, however, believe administering syntometrine is no longer necessary, as women today are healthier, have smaller families, and are less likely to be anaemic. Gina Cox-Roberts, a natal hypnotherapist from Telford, decided to try Lotus Birthing after having an overwhelming sense that the placenta was part of the baby’s body. “The placenta and the child came from the same cell,” she says. “Her placenta was as much a part of her as her hands or her heart.”
The placenta is part of the ovary wall and helps to nourish and maintain the fetus through the umbilical cord. It provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and removes waste products from the baby’s blood. In continuing with the process of the Lotus Birth, many debate that the best part is deciding what to do with the placenta when the umbilical cord detaches.
Traditionally it is said it should be buried, and there are many theories for how this should be done. Burying the placenta under a tree is very popular and apparently makes for good fertilizer, but be sure to bury it deep enough that it can’t be dug up by an animal intruder. In some cultures, the placenta is buried to the right side of the front door for a male and to the left side for a female.
Placentophagy, on the other hand, is the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after birth. British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall took this one step further by frying a placenta with shallots and garlic before spreading it on focaccia. You can eat it on pizza, in a smoothie, or the old fashioned way: raw. I personally think the best way to eat your placenta, should you choose this route, would be through a placenta encapsulation service, where the placenta is baked, ground into a powder, and converted into pills to be swallowed.
So why would anyone ever eat their placenta? In Traditional Chinese Medicine, placentas were being consumed as early as the 1500s, and the practice is believed to make a huge difference to a new mother’s mental health, recovery, and well-being. There are claims it supports lactation and prevents postpartum depression, though there is no concrete evidence to support this. But a survey was conducted by American medical anthropologists at the University of South Florida and at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to test this out. Among the respondents, about 3/4 claimed to have positive experiences from eating their own placenta, citing improved mood, increased energy, and improved lactation.
More and more expectant mothers are beginning to look into alternative methods of birthing. Ricky Lake, made popular by her show The Ricky Lake Show, felt that she was cheated of her first time birthing experience and so decided with her second child to go absolutely all natural with a home birth. You can watch her experience and learn more about modern birthing practices in her documentary, The Business of Being Born.
It’s important to be vigilant with your health and the health of your baby. Arm yourself with knowledge and don’t allow yourself be coerced or pressured into making decisions you are not comfortable with. If any of you have had a natural child birth, a lotus birth, or even ate your own placenta, let us know about your experience below. Would you do it again?
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