Monday, August 13, 2012

Lotus Birth and Related Crafts

I've finished a couple more projects this week, but before I get to showing off my handiwork, I need a little preamble about why this project was called for in the first place.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am all about the natural homebirth way of doing things,  I think I also mention all the time that I was a student midwife last year...so we all know that as the baseline.  But there is one aspect of giving birth that is possibly even unusual for me being the hippy homebirther.  "Lotus birth."  There are other terms out there, but this is the one I use since I had first heard of the practice with this name.  Basically, it is where the cord is not cut after birth.  The cord remains intact connecting the baby and the placenta until the cord dries and falls off, just as it does with babies who do have their cords cut and the stump falls off. 

The main questions that I've gotten about this are the obvious ones: Why would you want to carry the placenta around with the baby? and Isn't that gross/dangerous?

Why? There may be some idealogies floating around out there about why lotus birth is a good idea, but for me its about creating a gentle transition from intrauterine to extrauterine life.  There are physiologic benefits for delayed cord clamping because the baby gets her/his full blood volume.  All of these apply also to lotus birth.  But the thing that a lotus birth does really well is faciliate a peaceful, slow paced environment after birth.  It's a lot harder to want to run around if you have a newborn and placenta!  It also creates kind of a special bubble around the baby that I feel like visitors can sense helping to avoid passing the baby around the room the a hot potato and other overstimulating activities.  I guess that last statement might seem a bit extreme since that's how a lot of babies are welcomed, but again I have different opinions.  (stepping onto my soap box) For a long time in this culture babies have been treated as though they are not sentient.  I don't believe this is true and there is actually a whole field of study devoted to the understanding prenatal and newborn awareness.  Birth is a powerful and incredibly stimulating (miraculous, esctatic..) event.  So it the transition to life outside the womb.  Just like with any major transition, its really nice for one's overall (but especially psychological and emotional well-being) to have some time to get grounded afterward before adding new experiences.  This is a lot of the thinking behind the Gentle Birth movement, I think lotus birth is a way to continue the gentle transition into the first days of life. 

Mama and baby are also uniquely physiologically adapted to each other, especially when skin to skin contact is maintained, so that mama's temperature fluctuates to keep baby's tempertaure normal where it needs to be, it allows baby's blood sugar, breathing, and heartbeat to be better regulated, faciliates nursing, allows for optimal exposure normal flora in establishing healthy digestive and body flora in the baby, which is an important foundational step in establishing a healthy immune system.  Giving baby time to land and be in nearly constant skin-to-skin contact with mama helps all of baby's body systems to become regulated giving a solid foundation for lifelong health.  This is how our family does lotus birth not that lotus birth magically make this happen or that everyone who lotus births does it this way or that this kind of skin-to-skin transition can't happen without an attached placenta.  Also skin to skin contact with papa and siblings happens here too, immediate families share a lot of their body flora and generally have been exposed to the same enviornment so have a decreased risk of introducing microbes mama's milk would lack antibodies for.  When newborn or three-day-old baby is getting all those kisses from grandma and auntie and cousin and neighbor Joe, mama often misses out (I know no one tried to stick their fingers in my hands so I would grab onto them, or load my face up with kisses during Chobe's first days), meaning that baby is exposed to things that mama isn't.  Not that I'm a total germ-a-phobe or anything, but baby is being colonized with the body flora they will have for life and there is a lot of really interesting research coming out about the connections between intestinal flora and psychological states/conditions, so that's almost a whole other level to consider.  I feel like I know how to deal with my own (and my husband's own) brands of craziness the best... 

But another really important thing about having a prolonged intimate kind of immediate family only time with baby in the first days after birth is that I think this also prepares baby to feel more safe, secure and aware when baby is ready to meet other family members and friends.  This kind of builds on Joseph Chilton Pearce's ideas about child development.  Essentially the idea is that children learn through periods of stress and relaxation (actually everything grows/learns this way).  Stresses (which are positive in this context) come as new experiences, the relaxation phase is then relating these new experiences back to a familiar matrix.  In the case of the newborn, the familiar matrix is the mother.  Colostrum has the same smell/taste as amniotic fluid, frequent breastfeeding after birth (and I think as long as the Colostrum lasts) allows baby to reference the new sensory experiences of birth and the scenes of the first few days of life back to a familiar matrix.  All babies seek visual contact with faces even within the first hour after birth in an undrugged baby, so that as the familar matrix of the amniotic fluid is replaced by the milk, the baby's new matrix is mama's face, which he/she sees often while nursing and has up until the point of the milk coming in has become part of the matrix in which new experiences are embedded.  To give another example from later in life, when toddlers begin to explore their world their level of concrete knowledge explodes, then later in childhood with this matrix of concrete material they are ready to appreciate symbolic representations of these experiences in a more meaningful way, providing a more solid foundation for advanced abstract thought
(like mathematics) than if this process is rushed. (More on all of that later, if I ever get around to writing up my homeschooling philosophy to share, since it is very much informed by Pearce's work).  So all of this is to say, that with a lotus birth and the initmate space it helps maintain after birth I think that it helps baby to have a more secure and lucid experience, faciliating deeper bonds with relatives and friends when baby is ready.  I like that.

And as for the grossness...The umblicial cord is full of a substance called "Wharton's jelly" which firms up after the baby is born (more specifically after the baby's transition from newborn to neonatal circulation has completed and the cord has been allowed to pulse as long as it needs to to calibrate the exact amount of blood that baby needs in the body and in the placenta and then the placenta detatches).  So there isn't a significant (as in any realistic) chance of anything harmful coming in through the cord after birth.  The placenta is rinsed and powdered with rosemary which helps act as a drying agent and is antimircobial and then positioned to allow maximal air circulation so it can dry out like to cord.  Cleaning and topical anti-microbial herbs are applied around the navel/cord attachment site as needed.

As I mentioned, we did a lotus birth with Chobie and it took about five days for the cord to come off on its own.  We are planning to this again, so one of the projects is a placenta bag for carrying the placenta with the baby as needed while the cord site is still healing.  This isn't really designed for use before the placenta is pretty much dried out, nor is it meant for carrying the placenta on a day out or anything.  More like in transition from the bedroom to the living room, or to make some lunch or go for a little walk around outside on day 6 of the placenta being attached while baby is in a sling (then placenta tucked in with baby).

So here it is...it's basically a circular drawstring bag.

Bottom detail


Cut the pattern, with two pieces, both natural, breathable fabric.


Add optional embelishments to the outside piece of fabric.


Sew together with wrong sides together, leaving a little gap to turn right side out.


Topstitch and add two rounds of stitching for the drawstring.


Seam rip a small opening in fabric between the rounds of stitching.  Insert cord and pull closed.  I used 2 yards of yarn for my cord, which was made using the double reverse wrap method, which I learned originally for making cordage.  I couldn't find a good web tutorial for this, so maybe I'll make and post my own one day...


And for the related project, I used the same men's dress shirt (hey, it's a dress shirt for us!) that I used for one side of the placenta bag to make some little pants for Chobe.  Making pants from old shirts and especially wool sweaters for babies is one of my favorite projects.  I will be giving more details about this too one day!

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