Baby Sunshine was born over the summer, which is why I haven’t been posting. It was a perfect, peaceful waterbirth at home. Baby and placenta remained intact for several hours before we performed a cord burning ceremony when the time was right. Many people have asked me questions about cord burning and placenta, and I had many questions myself during my pregnancy, so I hope to provide valuable information here about those things.
I read a book during my pregnancy that absolutely stunned me. Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra by Robin Lim is something all people need to read. If you’re planning on having a baby in the near future, make it a priority. I had already come to know placenta as a sacred life force to be honored and respected, but the information presented in this book helped me understand so much more about placenta and the importance of lotus birth (aka intact birth). If you’re not into the spiritual aspects of it, there is still plenty to be gained from the book, including some practical information and studies.
Placentas are part of babies. They share the same DNA. Some people believe placenta is baby’s twin. Others believe placenta is a spiritual guardian, such as an angel. Whatever the case may be, they are together from early on in the baby’s womb life as companions. Separation should not be forceful and quick. Placentas should not be treated as trash or medical waste. Would you throw the body of a deceased loved one in the trash? I would hope not. Most people have burial or cremation rites, or some form of honoring their departed. May it be so for placenta. Many babies let out a cry or otherwise show signs of distress when their cords are cut. I have seen it compared to being with someone you love for your whole life, then going to sleep, and waking up without them. Most people I know are wounded from this separation, even if they don’t know it. Robin Lim discusses this in Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If we want to raise unwounded, whole people, we must start with birth, and placental separation is an extension of the birth process. Delayed cord clamping has gained traction as an evidence based practice, but delaying until the cord stops pulsing only scratches the surface. It’s a good start, but it’s the bare minimum of what humans deserve at the beginning of life. (Words to search to research and know your options: Extended delayed cord clamping, lotus birth, intact birth)
In addition to deciding when to separate the baby and placenta, you need to know your options for deciding how to separate baby and placenta. One option is a full lotus birth. This is when they are simply left alone to separate naturally. The placenta is usually preserved with salt and herbs, and they are otherwise left alone, generally separating on their own with a dried up cord on the third day (give or take). Interestingly, mother’s milk comes in around the third day (give or take). Could it be that there is some wisdom to this design that modern science does not yet understand?
Not everyone wants a full lotus birth, nor is it something that works with every set of circumstances, so there are other options to consider. Some people use homemade cord ties, clamps, or other such tools to clamp the cord before using sterile scissors to separate the cord, but I want to show you a different way. A slower, gentler, and more sterile way: Cord burning.
Burning the umbilical cord is a slow and gentle separation that allows us the opportunity to reflect on and honor the placenta. It allows baby time to say goodbye to placenta, and transition gently to life outside the womb. In some cultures, it is believed that the element of fire helps to move any remaining life force from the placenta to the baby. Besides the spiritual implications, it also has practical benefits. It is the most sterile way to separate an umbilical cord to prevent infections, and it requires no additional cord stump aftercare or clamping. It cauterizes as it separates. It also allows the cord stump to dry up and fall off faster. Sunshine baby’s cord stump fell off on day five.
I’m going to share our cord burning ceremony with you, and then I will address some frequently asked questions about cord burning. I hope this information helps you understand the importance of placenta, and some options that you have when including placenta in your birth plan.
OUR CORD BURNING CEREMONY
This placenta protected Sunshine and me during pregnancy and after birth by providing a barrier against pathogens, providing life-sustaining hormones, nutrients, and oxygen, and providing her with the foundation for lifelong immune system health. This is a miraculous organ only created in the womb when growing a new life. In some cultures, the placenta is honored as the deceased twin of the baby, and is given full burial rites. After all, everything in the universe requires balance. We cannot have life without also having death, and in the wake of death, we can be sure that new life always emerges. Right now, we are honored to witness the full circle of life and death. The way babies and their placentas have been prematurely and forcibly separated in modern times has prevented many people from understanding this important knowledge.
Dear placenta, your sacrifice has given this baby life, and we are grateful. We are here now to honor you as the sacred life force that you are, the first mother, and the tree of life. You are the roots, the cord is the stem, and sweet Sunshine is the fruit. A sacred trinity. Just as trees give us oxygen here on earth, you provided oxygen between the worlds. While your earthly purpose is now complete, we understand that you will continue to protect Sunshine in spirit, and we thank you. It is time for gentle and peaceful separation, bringing Sunshine fully earthside and releasing placenta back to the spiritual realm.
Welcome earthside, Sunshine!
FAQ About Cord Burning
Q: Can cord burning be done in the hospital?
A: Most hospitals won’t allow you to have an open flame during your stay, but that need not stop you from cord burning once you get home. Just keep baby and placenta together until then. If it’s going to be longer than a few hours, you’ll want to preserve placenta with salt and herbs following instructions as if doing a full lotus birth, or keep placenta on ice in a thermal bag. If the hospital insists on taking placenta for testing (drug testing is routinely performed in some hospitals) and you consent to that, they don’t need the whole thing. They can use just part of it while the rest remains intact.
Q: Is cord burning compatible with placenta encapsulation?
A: Yes, it can be. If you wish to consume placenta before separation occurs (such as raw in a smoothie), a small piece of placenta can be cut off for such use (with baby’s permission, of course). Encapsulation or other such processing of the placenta for consumption can be done as long as the placenta is not attached for longer than four hours, or as long as placenta is kept preserved with ice in a thermal bag if intact longer than four hours.
Q: What tools are needed for cord burning?
A: A flame that will stay lit for a few minutes (e.g. a candle or two), something heat proof to catch hot wax that drips, and a heat barrier between baby and the flame (can be as simple as a piece of cardboard). We used a cord burning box, which acted as a barrier and a place for the wax to drip. It had grooves to help hold the cord and candles. but I’ve seen people use something as simple as a plate to catch wax. It doesn’t take much. Be resourceful.
Q: What kind of candles should be used?
A: Any candle will work. We chose 100% natural beeswax candles so baby would not be inhaling toxic fumes.
Q: How long does it take?
A: We had two candles going at once, and it took maybe about 5 minutes. With only one candle, it can take a bit longer.
Q: Does it have a bad smell?
A: Not really! Maybe a mild campfire type smell, but not like burning flesh or anything like you might expect. It might crackle and pop a couple times in the process though, so don’t be alarmed if this happens.
Q: How far from the baby should the cord be burned?
A: 6-8 inches from baby
Q: What do you do with the remaining cord stump afterwards?
A: Nothing special needs to be done other than making sure it doesn’t accidentally get pulled. Just leave it alone, and it will dry up and fall off in a few days time. Wrapping a piece of gauze or other fabric around baby’s belly to keep the cord stump in place is helpful. If you want to, you can even make the stump into a little heart, spiral, or other shape before securing it in place.