Cord burning is the process of using heat (fire from a candle, usually) to sever the baby’s umbilical cord after birth, rather than the typical cutting. Basically, after the placenta has been delivered, the baby is snuggled skin-to-skin on mother’s chest with cord intact and still attached to the placenta. Then, a “burn box” (check out the beautiful ones here) or homemade “shield” made of aluminum foil-covered cardboard is placed around the cord with the aluminum foil facing the placenta. The cord is held over a candle flame and rotated for 10-15 minutes until it burns through and separates. After the end of the cord has cooled, the half of the cord that’s attached to the baby will be curled into a spiral or tied into a knot on the baby’s stomach and wrapped with gauze until the next day. When the gauze is removed, the cord spiral or knot will air-dry and is likely to fall off just a few days later.
You may be asking what the benefits of cord burning are. After all, it requires some extra help, takes a lot longer than clamping and cutting, and adds a bit of additional work to the intense work already involved in birthing a baby. Allow me to pontificate…
If you’ve had a baby, think back to the first hour after your baby was born. It’s often called the “Golden Hour” - in which the new family is (supposedly) peaceful, calm, and falling in love with their newborn. However, it often seems like it’s all business - the business of clamping and cutting the cord, expelling the placenta, and basically rushing the separation of the baby from all it’s ever known into this new, cold, bright, loud world. I like to think of cord burning as a refreshing way to slow it all down. It’s a very intentional way to allow families to savor the connection of the baby to the mother’s body, rather than blindly running forward into this newness.
Also, consider your ‘village.” Cord burning can be a way for the partner, doula, midwife, and even the baby’s older siblings to be involved in the baby’s birth. What a beautiful way for a baby to be introduced to their community!
Medically speaking, cord burning can be a great way to separate the cord when there aren’t sterile medical supplies available - clamps and scissors. There are also known physical benefits to delayed cord clamping, which necessarily precedes cord burning.
Cord burning may not be for everyone. In fact, the way it stands, in Athens it’s just an option for homebirth babies since the hospitals don’t allow an open flame in the birth rooms (and for good reason!). But now you know there’s another option for you to consider as you plan out your ideal “Golden Hour.”