If you google it, you’ll find a few articles touting umbilical cord burning as the new trend for crunchy mums but it’s actually an age-old tradition and practice, one that hasn’t yet been lost.
In 2004 when the devastating earthquake and Tsunami hit Aceh in Indonesia, midwives were trained and taught to burn the umbilical cords of babies. They had no medical instruments left and no way to sterilize what they did have so umbilical cord burning was used to detach the baby from the cord and also prevented newborns dying from tetanus caused from cords being cut with rusty or unsterilized scissors.
This teaching was led by Robin Lim, a Midwife and Founder of Yayasan Bumi Sehat (Healthy Mother Earth Foundation), which funds birthing and educational clinics in Indonesia.
We practiced umbilical cord burning for our daughter’s birth recently, not because we were concerned about infection but because we wanted to honour the placenta and our child’s severance from the organ that nourished and sustained her for her first 9 months of life. It was a birth ritual that we all participated in, my husband, myself, and my sister as we each held a candle that burned the cord while my midwives helped hold the baby and took photos.
We swaddled and laid the baby on her side and put up a heat guard between her and the candles, it took about 10 to 15 minutes to burn through (it’s best to wait at least 3 hours after birth before burning) and one of us held the cord steady while we all held candles to burn the cord.
There was no heat in the cord other than where we burned it. It crackled and popped a bit as the gases were released and amazingly the baby was quiet, calm and peaceful throughout the entire process. Once burned through you need to be careful the burned end doesn’t touch the baby until it’s completely cooled (1-2 minutes). We didn’t need any medicine on the stump, there wasn’t a big clamp to deal with and it fell off rather quickly – within 4 days.
Umbilical cord burning for us was more than a moment where ‘the partner’ cuts the cord, it was a memorable amount of time that we spent together, all the people who were present for the birth, to chat and share the ritual of our daughter separating from her placenta. Had our eldest child been awake at the time we would have invited him to also be involved.
There are full instructions on cord burning in Robin’s book Placenta, The Forgotten Chakra, which I highly recommend. It’s available for download for $11 and all proceeds go to her not-for-profit organisation. You can print off the instructions you need for cord burning and give it to your midwife if she/he is unfamiliar with the process.