Lotus births, which involve leaving the placenta attached to a baby via the umbilical cord, are trending. But here's what you need to know about the fad.

a baby and her placenta
Credit: Renee Bergeron of Little Earthling Photography

More and more parents are asking for lotus births, which involve leaving your placenta attached to the umbilical cord—and, by virtue of that, your baby—until the cord falls off naturally. If you think this sounds cumbersome, you might be on to something: This sort of scenario involves toting the placenta around with your baby during every early feeding, diaper change, and bedtime.

But some parents believe strongly that this practice can provide additional nutrients to the baby and make the transition from womb to world easier. And there have been studies that show that keeping the umbilical unclamped for a brief amount of time post-birth (as in 15 minutes) could have health benefits for your baby. 

But the lotus birth trend is not without its risks. “The thing is, I think everything is about risk and benefit in pregnancy. I understand the psychosocial aspects but I do think there are risks involved. The placenta itself, after it detaches, essentially just becomes dead tissue. Because it has blood in it, [it] has bacteria. Essentially, the baby is kind of carrying around this dead piece of tissue that has bacteria on it," says Michael Cackovic, MD, a maternal fetal medicine specialist. And that could put your baby at risk of infection as a result.

Dr. Cackovic—who has not seen patients requesting this sort of birth but expects it will start happening soon—also warns that certain risk factors (including sexually transmitted diseases, long labors, and history of smoking) can make this even more unsafe. "There's very few patients that kind of qualify for having a low risk for having bacteria in their placenta," he says.

This type of birth might be trending at the moment, but this isn't the first time it's been an issue. "This kind of was a thing back in 2008 back in England, and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists actually weighed in and made a statement saying the placenta is prone to infection as it contains blood...the placenta has no circulation and is essentially dead tissue," Dr. Cackovic says. "They actually felt that it was enough of a risk and enough people were requesting it that they needed to make a statement. We haven't seen [ACOG] do this yet, but I imagine if enough people are requesting this, they will come out with a statement as well."

Bottom line: Experts suggest the benefits don't outweigh the risks—and at the very least, it might be smart to wait until there's more research available on the method before you experiment with your little one.