Lotus Birth - A Ritual for
our times by Sarah
Lotus birth is the practice
of leaving the umbilical cord uncut, so that
the baby remains attached to his/her placenta
until the cord naturally separates at the umbilicus-
exactly as a cut cord does- at 3 to 10 days
after birth. This prolonged contact can be
seen as a time of transition, allowing the
baby to slowly and gently let go of his/her
attachment to the mother's body.
Although we have no written records
of cultures which leave the cord uncut, many
traditional peoples hold the placenta in high
esteem. For example, Maori people from New
Zealand bury the placenta ritually on the ancestral
marae, and the Hmong, a hill tribe from South
East Asia, believe that the placenta must be
retrieved after death to ensure physical integrity
in the next life: a Hmong baby's placenta is
buried inside the house of its birth.
Lotus Birth is a new ritual for
us, having only been described in chimpanzees
before 1974, when Clair Lotus Day- pregnant
and living in California- began to question
the routine cutting of the cord. 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.
Lotus Birth was named by, and seeded through
Clair to Jeannine Parvati Baker in the US and
Shivam Rachana in Australia, who have both
been strong advocates for this gentle practice.
Since 1974, many babies have
been born this way, including babies born at
home and in hospital, on land and in water,
and even by caesarean section. Lotus birth
is a beautiful and logical extension of natural
childbirth, and invites us to reclaim the so-called
third stage of birth, and to honour the placenta,
our baby’s first source of nourishment.
I am a New Zealand GP (family
MD in America), and have 4 children born at
home in my adopted country, Australia. I have
experienced Lotus birth with my second and
subsequent children, after being drawn to it
during my second pregnancy through contact
with Shivam Rachana at the Centre for Human
Transformation in Yarra Glen, near Melbourne.
Lotus birth made sense to me at the time, as
I remembered my time training in GP obstetrics,
and the strange and uncomfortable feeling of
cutting through the gristly, fleshy cord that
connects baby to placenta and mother. The feeling
for me was like cutting through a boneless
toe, and it felt good to avoid this cutting
with my coming baby.
Through the CHT I spoke with
women who had chosen this for their babies,
and experienced a beautiful post-natal time.
Some women also described their Lotus-Birth
child's self-possession and completeness. Others
described it as a challenge, practically and
emotionally. Nicholas, my partner, was concerned
that it might interfere with the magic of those
early days, but was happy to go along with
Zoe, our second child, was born
at home on the 10th of September 1993. Her
placenta was, unusually, an oval shape, which
was perfect for the red velvet placenta bag
that I had sewn. Soon after the birth, we wrapped
her placenta in a cloth nappy, then in the
placenta bag, and bundled it up with her in
a shawl that enveloped both of them. Every
24 hours, we attended to the placenta by patting
it dry, coating it liberally with salt, and
dropping a little lavender oil onto it. Emma,
who was 2, was keen to be involved in the care
of her sister's placenta.
As the days passed, Zoe's cord
dried from the umbilical end, and became thin
and brittle. It developed a convenient 90 degree
kink where it threaded through her clothes,
and so did not rub or irritate her. The placenta,
too, dried and shrivelled due to our salt treatment,
and developed a slightly meaty smell, which
interested our cat!
Zoe’s cord separated on
the 6th day, without any fuss; other babies
have cried inconsolably or held their cord
tightly before separation. We planted her placenta
under a mandarin tree on her first birthday,
which our dear friend and neighbour Annie later
dug up and put in a pot when we moved interstate.
She told us later that the mandarins from the
tree were the sweetest she had ever tasted.
Our third child, Jacob Patrick,
was born on the 25th September 1995, at home
into water. Jacob and I stayed in the water
for some time after the birth, so we floated
his placenta in a plastic ice-cream carton
(with the lid on, and a corner cut out for
the cord) while I nursed him. This time, we
put his placenta in a sieve to drain for the
first day. I neither dressed nor carried Jacob
at this time, but stayed in a still space with
him, while Nicholas cared for Emma, 4, and
Zoe, 2. His cord separated in just under 4
days, and I felt that he drank deeply of the
stillness of that time.
His short "breaking forth"
time was perfect because my parents arrived
from New Zealand the following day to help
with our household. He later chose a Jacaranda
tree under which to bury his placenta at our
new home in Queensland.
My fourth baby, Maia Rose, was
born in Brisbane, where Lotus birth is still
very new, on 26 July 2000. We had a beautiful
‘Do It Yourself’ birth at home,
and my intuition told me that her breaking
forth time would be short. I decided not to
treat her placenta at all, but kept it in a
sieve over a bowl in the daytime, and in the
placenta bag at night. The cord separated in
just under 3 days and, although it was a cool
time of year, it did get become friable and
rather smelly. (Salt treatment would have prevented
this). Maia’s placenta is still in our
freezer, awaiting the right time for burial,
and I broke off a piece of her dried cord to
give to her when she is older.
My older children have blessed
me with stories of their lives before birth,
and have been unanimously in favour of not
cutting the cord- especially Emma, who remembered
the unpleasant feeling of having her cord cut,
which she describes as being “painful
in my heart”. Zoe, at five years of age,
described being attached to a ‘love-heart
thing’ in my womb and told me “When
I was born, the cord went off the love-heart
thing and onto there (the placenta) and then
I came out.” Perhaps she experienced
her placenta in utero as the source of nourishment
Lotus birth has been, for us,
an exquisite ritual which has enhanced the
magic of the early post natal days. I notice
an integrity and self-possession with my lotus-born
children, and I believe that lovingness, cohesion,
attunement to nature, trust, and respect for
the natural order have all been imprinted on
our family by our honouring of the placenta,
the Tree of Life, through Lotus Birth.
Asking The Next Question by Robin Lim from Midwifery Today Magazine,
Issue 58, Summer 2001
We midwives are widely known
for asking questions. As embryonic midwives
we read Niles Newton, Lester Hazell, Sheila
Kitzinger. When our own bellies grew rich with
child we had Jeannine Parvati Baker's "Prenatal
Yoga" to guide us. Raven Lang's "Birth
Book" and Suzanne Arms' book, "Immaculate
Deception" inspired us and we asked the
obstetrical world: Why? Why so many routine
vaginal exams? Why stirrups? Why the shave?
Why the high rate of cesarean birth? Why should
I consider epidural anesthesia? Why ultrasound?
When we were not satisfied with
the answers, or lack of explanation we naturally
asked: Why must a healthy, low-risk woman have
her healthy baby in the hospital, a place set
aside for people who are seriously ill? The
next logical question was: Why not home birth?
Receiving babies at home midwives
continued to ask why. They listened to expectant
parents also asking why. Why do obstetricians
practicing in hospitals cut the umbilical cord
so soon? It was a quiet, yet profound revolution
when midwives learned to wait. Obstetrical
medicine may have viewed it as a giant step
backwards in history. Back to a time of family
centered, woman-helping-woman birth protocols.
Indeed indigenous people of our planet are
still allowing birth to unfold, naturally.
The families we serve are pleased to experience
birth without the interference of technology.
Faith in Mother Nature and Father Time, in
God's design for human reproduction is strong
in the hearts of home birth families.
However what birthing women and
their babies experience in most hospital settings,
not only in the U.S., but in the medical protocols
that western medicine has exported to the "developing
world", are procedures and practices which
do not have this "faith" as a foundation.
Instead, the " Baby's House" became
the "uterus". The uterus, from what
I can tell, having worked in many hospitals,
is perceived as the enemy, a dark and mysterious
place from which doctors must rescue babies!
Armed with induction and the pitocin drip,
they are ready and able to move those babies
Once a woman in a hospital has
reached full dilation (and with all the routine
vaginal exams, that is quickly established),
the vagina becomes the enemy. With or without
expulsion contractions women are told (I've
seen them forced) to push. If she does not
bring the baby out quickly enough, fundal pressure
is applied. Next forceps or vacuum suction.
PUSH! PUSH! Episiotomies are cut to hasten
the exit of baby, accomplishing the rescue
in less time. The cord is immediately clamped
and cut. The baby is rushed away from the mother.
To be washed (getting all the enemy slime and
smells off), weighed, measured and evaluated
as a survivor. Her temperature is taken anally.
She's dressed and placed in a warmer.
What a contrast to the five home
births I had and to the births of the many
hundreds of babies I've been honored to receive
in their homes. Homes with extravagant carpets,
homes with bamboo walls and packed mud floors,
all those loving homes in-between where birth
took place without violence. Mother was never
the enemy in these homes. We had no high-tech
infant warmer. The babies were snug on mother's
skin, in her arms, cradled on her soft belly,
suckled at her breasts. Primitive? Perhaps.
A step backwards? I wonder?
With your permission I'll take
you to a family scene, 24 years after my first
perfectly natural home birth… My now
grown daughter Déjà is in a panic.
"I've lost my purse! Mother help me. I'll
die without my purse!" Déjà's
purse is oval shaped, weighing about 1 1/2
lbs., is brown-red in color and has a long
strap. Misplacing it causes her to panic, her
breathing becomes labored. She cries for mother.
Moments after Déjà cried, "I'll
die without my purse!" Our eyes met in
a moment of "a-ha". She laughed out
loud and said, "This is all your fault
mother, you never should have let my cord be
cut." We hugged and one of Déjà's
brothers unearthed the essential purse, the
Just the previous weekend Déjà
had assisted while I served as midwife for
her friend, Priya. The family had decided on
Lotus birth, they chose not to cut baby Pranavkrshnan's
umbilical cord. The glowing new father, Pradheep,
a PHD in biochemistry, felt spiritually moved
to choose a non-violent way. As a scientist
he was curious to see for himself how nature
would handle the relationship between his son
and the placenta. We brought a bowl of warm
water close and washed the excess blood away.
We dusted the placenta with ground rosemary,
turmeric and salt. Gingerly, respectfully we
wrapped it in a diaper, while the baby remained
naked, warm against his mother, still attached
to his 'little brother'.
Over the course of the magical
first week of Pranavkrshnan's life, the cord
dried up, we changed the placenta's diaper
and added herbs daily. There was no unpleasant
odor. On day five the baby's grandmother made
a discovery. She observed that when her grandson
nursed, the placenta, lying approximately 14
inches away, would pulse. She pointed this
out to her son-in-love, who was astounded.
When I arrived for a visit, Pradheep
could not wait to demonstrate. I was witness
to nothing short of a miraculous revelation:
even five days after the birth, though the
umbilical cord was dry, seemingly lifeless,
the placenta was responsive to the baby being
nourished at mother's breasts. In the words
of the father-biochemist, "I am certain
that something here is being communicated.
I am not fooled by the dry appearance of the
cord, deep in the center there is life. Something
essential is being provided to my baby by his
Many, many years ago I read about
Jeannine Parvati Baker's Lotus births. I was
moved, yet I did not imagine that I could accomplish
this kind of patience. When I mentioned it
to my own midwife (now deceased), she laughed
and assured me that it would be too inconvenient.
I let the idea go, though I was to birth three
more babies, I was not ready to look that deeply
into my own process. Today it is the one thing
I would change about the births of my children.
Yes, my daughter laughed when she realized
she would not 'die' without her purse. Yet
I can't shake the memory of her recoiling when
her cord was cut. Yes, it had stopped pulsing,
or so we thought at the time.
Prior to 1995 hundreds of times
I've cut cords. Too often I've heard the babies
cry out at the moment, or flinch, or clutch
their fists, sometimes I perceive no reaction.
In Bali I learned to wait until the "Ari-ari"
was born before ever cutting. This is the tradition,
never to 'kill' the placenta, the little brother
or sister, before it dies a natural death.
This Ari-ari would die shortly after the birth
but live on in spirit as the child's guardian
angel, for the entirety of the baby's life.
After death the Ari-ari would go with one to
heaven and testify as to whether or not this
human did his or her life's duty. A Balinese
child greets her placenta when she rises in
the morning. At night he prays and implores
his placenta to protect him in the dark. Every
new moon, full moon and on each Holy day offerings
are placed at the burial site of one's placenta.
Here in Iowa I've received now
ten babies whose cords were not cut. Only ten.
The vast majority of families still choose
to cut the cord. However since 1995 all of
the babies I have received in Indonesia, the
Philippines and Iowa (with the exception of
one serious nucal cord baby) have enjoyed the
benefits of waiting until well after the birth
of the placenta before their umbilical cord
was cut. (Usually one to two hours) Another
midwife who has moved out of State had also
facilitated a few Lotus births.
In Asia I did notice that the
women were in no hurry to cut the cord once
the placenta had been born. It was the men
who wished it done. They felt compelled to
bathe and bury the Ari- ari quickly. Culturally
it was the men's responsibility, and so the
women accommodated them. More than a few grandmothers
and great-grandmothers rebuked the men for
rushing the cord cutting, even an hour after
the birth of the placenta.
I am now blessed to have a copy
of Jeannine Parvati Baker's Lotus Birth Information
Packet. Each of my home birth families reads
it while expecting. Since Jeannine sent it
to me, none of my families has chosen to cut
the cord. Amazing how simple it is to begin
a sweet revolution, just by providing honest
answers to simple questions. Thank You Jeannine.
Recently another gift from Jeannine landed
in my mailbox: A book by Shivam Rachana called,
Lotus Birth. (published in 2000 by Greenwood
Press, P.O. Box 233 Yarra Glen, Victoria 3775
Australia) What a gift this author has given
the world. I have hung on every word and highly
Midwives are the guardians of
normal birth. Yet in these times we may have
forgotten what normal is. We are certain that
a close bond between mother and child is normal.
My experience is that Lotus birth facilitates
that bond. Yes, it is inconvenient to move
around with the baby attached to her placenta.
So mother lays-in, close to the baby and placenta,
breastfeeding is established in this sacred
circle of quiet, restful seclusion. Yes, few
visitors feel welcome while the placenta is
still attached. It is during this space out
of time that family may be invented, that the
new mother reinvents herself.
Midwives, please ask yourselves
the next question: Why are we buying into the
medical ritual of cord cutting? When I see
one of my Lotus birth babies gingerly holding
her cord, I feel the goodness of leaving them
intact. HER cord, HIS placenta, the baby's
companion in the womb, who has sustained mother
and child through pregnancy, has shared the
baby's magical prenatal world…
We live in a world of MINE, of
mountains of possessions. I wonder if the roots
of consumerism are planted in the practice
of taking babies' cord and placenta away, before
they naturally let go. And, I ask myself: Why
cut the cord?