It’s growing in popularity, and I’m glad about it. Having a ceremonial cord burning in place of a clamp-and-cut method of severing the umbilical cord after a home birth is a lovely alternative.
Let’s talk about it! And then scroll to the bottom to see a gallery of images of cord burning that I’ve taken over the years.
This is one of 5 sacred ceremonies for birth, which I’ve outlined in a PDF guide. Get yours here.
Cord burning has several benefits, both physiological and emotional/spiritual.
For one thing, it enforces delayed cord clamping. Because this process cannot be done until after the placenta is delivered, it forces the cord to remain intact, delivering the last vestiges of the baby’s blood right to where it belongs for at LEAST 10 minutes (or however long it takes for the placenta to be born). That means that baby remains on mama for this time as well, not easily scooped up to be handled/held by others. And we know that extended skin-to-skin time is vital for newborn and new mama transition and bonding.
But on a more spiritual-emotional level, the ceremony of it creates a pocket of sacred quiet during which the entire family and the birth witnesses can integrate the experience they’ve just had and be present to it. Because the process takes some time, it facilitates slowing down to be in the presence of God and the new life.
And though this is speculation, I swear that babies whose cords are burned don’t cry at the moment of severance as much as those whose cords are cut with scissors. Why? I don’t know! We don’t have any evidence that there is pain involved in the moment of cord cutting, as the cord doesn’t contain nerve endings, but is there something going on here energetically?
The connection to placenta has literally been life-sustaining for the baby for many months. Without it, death would be certain. So many families like to honor that reality by more consciously and reverently transitioning baby away from that placental life source and into their own free-standing life.
Does it stink?
Yes, a little. It is, after all, burning flesh. But I have never found it to be overpowering.
How long does it take?
15-20 minutes, typically. I have seen some families run out of steam and decide to stop before it’s completely burned through and then finish off with scissors (in which case, you need to tie/clamp the cord).
Do you need to clamp/tie off the cord first?
No! The cauterization from the flame takes care of that.
What supplies are needed?
You’ll need a bowl for the placenta, a pair of taper candles (preferably non-toxic like beeswax), and a vessel over which to burn the cord. You might choose to purchase a handcrafted box made specifically for this purpose (I used this one). There are beautiful cord-burning boxes available, but you can also just as easily use a baking pan or a mixing bowl from your kitchen. Line the bottom of the vessel with tin foil if you want to avoid the dripping wax sticking to and possibly ruining the bottom of it.
How do you set it up so it’s not messy or dangerous?
The cord is stretched across whatever vessel you choose and two candles are held steady on either side of it. All the wax dripping from the candles will be caught in whatever vessel you’ve stretched the cord across.
It’s important to place the bowl/candle close enough to the baby to not have a massively long cord “tail” remaining but far enough away to ensure no sparks leap onto baby. Some families take a solid piece of cardboard covered in foil or some other small “shield” to place between the baby and where the burning is happening, but I don’t find this to be strictly necessary.
Won’t there be a really long “tail” left?
Yes, for sure it will be longer than what you’d have with a traditional clamp-and-cut. But they also tend to fall off a bit sooner. You can loop it up and secure it with an embroidery floss tie or whatever other creative way you can think of. But another option is to clamp/tie the cord closer to the baby’s body and cut it there after the cord burning is complete. If you know that the long “tail” will bug you, this is a good “hybrid” option that allows you to enjoy the beauty of the ceremony with the tidiness of a short cord stump. 😉
What do you do while you wait for it to finish burning?
Cuddle and nurse your baby. You might also choose to do things like sing a special pre-selected song or read a poem, or pray a prayer of blessing over your baby during this time, or thank God for bringing mother and baby through birth safely. It’s also okay to sit in the quiet and be mindful, just taking it all in.
Note: with the exception of the first two photographs of my own birth, which were taken by Annica Quakenbush of Sprout and Blossom Birth, all photographs below are my own, copyright Brooke Collier.
If the idea of building sacred ceremonies like this into your birth is appealing, you might also be interested in my Guide to Sacred Ceremonies for Birth, available now as a digital download.
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