Thursday, December 27, 2012

Umbilical Cord Burning...Why?

When my son was born, my midwife assisted us in burning the umbilical cord rather than clamping and severing it with scissors.  People have asked us why, have either been interested or thought it was just a bunch of Hocus Pocus.  I am a huge fan of the practice now, having done some research on it.  It was much more of a personalized experience and, as always, my midwife took her time and didn't seem to be rushing through anything.  It wasn't as if she was in a hurry to get things done, so we took our time burning it away. There is very little research on how it's done, why it's done or what benefits it has.  With burning, you would obviously delay the process a bit until the cord stopped pulsing, so of course you also get the same benefits as you would with delayed clamping.

The method is very simple.  You place a shield between the baby and the fire so that the baby's belly doesn't get hot, the midwife holds the cord and the person who would normally cut the cord, holds up the candle to burn it.  This is more time consuming than clamping and chopping, so in the time that it takes to burn the cord, it gives others the opportunity to join in and help burn the cord as well.  The father can do most of the work, but siblings, friends, doula, grandmother, or old Uncle Bob can help out as well.  If someone is spiritual or religious in some way, they might even read some of their favorite bible versus, sing hymns or say prayers. We are Atheists so we didn't really have a need for any of those things, but I can see how this would offer an opportunity of calm for those who do have religious backgrounds.

There is evidence of this being an ancient Chinese medicine, and used as a way to send the Qi back into the baby after his journey through the birth canal, which seems to be the selling point to many people.  The belief is that the fire will chase the Qi back into the baby so it doesn't just exit through the cord.  :-)  It also introduces the element of fire to the baby early on, along with the other three.  Air would be that first breath of air that the baby takes after birth, water would be the amniotic fluid and earth would be the bringing of life, or the birth itself.  Burning the cord allows for the fourth element to be introduced as well.  From my own experience, there is something very magical about burning the cord.  As we begun, my son awoke from his slumber and watched intently as the cord was being burned away.  He didn't fuss or cry.  He was not alarmed and showed no signs of discomfort. He simply watched the flame peacefully and very alert.

In many other countries this practice is used because no sterile tools are required.  It does not require any clamping or extra care.  The fire will cauterize the cord, and there is a small stump leftover that falls off after about a week or two. This is a very practical alternative to cutting the cord.  For those unsure how to handle the cord in other countries, they will often cut the umbilical cord with dirty, contaminated tools. Burning the cord is a great alternative and also reduces the likelihood of Tetanus in infants.  This is more of a risk in third world countries, of course but something that can't be ruled out in developed places either.

Although most hospitals most likely would not allow this practice, it is definitely worth mentioning to a midwife delivering a baby in a birthing center or at home.  Kits can be purchased here.  If you're a DIY kind of person, I'm sure it would be a fun birth craft or project to do during nesting too.    
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