Eastern Health, one of Melbourne’s largest public healthcare services, is now creating new policies to deal with ‘alternative’ birth requests that could be potentially dangerous following the death of a two-day-old baby girl in August 2017.
Born premature and with a low birth weight, the baby had remained attached through her umbilical cord to her placenta for her whole short life – in a practice known as a ‘lotus birth’ – where the aim is that the umbilical cord will naturally separate from the baby’s body. This process generally happens 3-10 days after birth.
The practice is considered dangerous by medical experts due to the risk of infection from the dead placenta. And this, sadly, is exactly what happened to this newborn. After two days, she died of sepsis, a catastrophic blood infection.
The parents, who had undergone a gruelling 13 rounds of IVF to fall pregnant, had also chosen to perform vaginal seeding – a practice where vaginal fluids are applied to a newborn baby’s face and mouth after a caesarean section with the aim to transfer bacteria that the baby would have been exposed to in a vaginal birth – in a bid to boost her immunity.
“I wanted her to have the best possible start in life,” the baby’s mother said in a statement given to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, “What I believed at the time to be the best start for her.”
After refusing both the Hepatitis B vaccination and Vitamin K shot standardly given to newborn babies, the mother explained her decisions, “I am not anti-vaccinations, I was being cautious and with such a small baby I wanted to know her little body would cope. Everything was thought out and considered for decades.”
The coroner’s report was recently handed down into the baby’s death and highlighted gaps in Eastern Health’s policies when it comes to ‘alternative’ birth requests – currently there are no guidelines in place to address such requests – with Coroner Audrey Jamieson recommending that Eastern Health “assess new or alternative practices for their risks and evidence basis and ultimately approve whether the new practice should be allowed to proceed.”
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Eastern Health additionally voiced their concern that without any such guidelines in place, that parents could be led to believe that alternative birth requests were supported – which was not the case.
Birth practices that are deemed ‘new or alternative’ and so included in the new guidelines include:
- Lotus birthing
- Vaginal seeding
- Women who decline induction of labour
- Women who decline a caesarean section
- Women who insist on a water birth despite medical advice not to proceed