Umbilical Cord Keepsakes Are Going Viral, & Some Of The Reasons Why Might Surprise You
Before you bash it, look at it from a different perspective.
Among the many treasured keepsakes out there to celebrate your little one coming into the world, you’re probably aware of the classics: memory books, photo albums, framed hand- and footprints. But if you’ve been on TikTok lately, you may have noticed a decidedly different kind of keepsake flooding your feed — some parents are preserving their umbilical cords as a way to cherish the connection between themselves and their babies, creating a “memory” they can hold onto for years to come.
If this is the first you’re hearing of umbilical cord keepsakes, you likely have some questions. Namely, how does one ask for their umbilical cord? Is it even safe and sanitary to handle it? And how do you transform it into something special, like a heart or a star, especially if you’re not particularly crafty or handy?
Granted, if you’re being honest, the idea might even make your stomach turn a little — especially if you’re not a mom who’s crunchy enough to have ever considered preserving placental parts for any reason. That’s understandable. But in learning a little more about why certain parents opt for this very intimate art form, you might be surprised to find that you sort of see the appeal. Or, at the very least, you understand why they see the appeal.
Is this practice safe?
The first thing that might pop into your head is, Huh, I didn’t even really know people were allowed to keep their umbilical cord. But yep, that’s a thing people can (and often) do. Scary Mommy asked two OB-GYNs about the protocol here, and they explained you can certainly ask your obstetrician or someone on your delivery care team to hold onto the umbilical cord. If you’re adopting or working with a surrogate, you can also ask the birth mom or gestational carrier for it as well. “Most hospitals have policies and processes for patients to request to keep their placentas, which would include the umbilical cord. It’s not a very common request, but it does happen,” explains Staci Tanouye, MD FACOG.
Still, it’s not exactly the type of thing you can handle willy-nilly, as caring for an umbilical cord requires some pretty measured safety precautions you will not want to skimp on. Wearing gloves is essential, and Kim Langdon, MD, an OB-GYN with Medzino, explains that parents can “request a section of the umbilical cord, placed in a plastic bag, rinsed clear of blood and debris, and refrigerated or have it placed in a desiccator,” a specialized sealable container or package that prevents moisture from developing within.
Hospital staff can help ensure that all safety measures are adhered to, with Tanouye adding, “As long as it’s not being ingested and it can be fully dehydrated so it doesn’t grow mold, I don’t see a safety problem with keeping a portion of the umbilical cord. The biggest precaution is ensuring it is fully dehydrated and dried to minimize the risk of it developing mold.”
How do you create an umbilical cord keepsake?
Bringing it home is only half the adventure, and you’re likely also wondering how the heck to transform it into a work of art. That’s where artists like Casey Merrell of uCord Keepsakes can help. Merrell has created umbilical cord keepsakes for parents for more than seven years, working closely with families every step of the way.
Merrell recommends asking someone you trust (dads, doula, birth partners, or another family member) to keep track of the umbilical cord, as things can get chaotic in the hustle and bustle of labor and delivery. She adds that legally, your healthcare provider or birth facility cannot prevent you from taking home the placenta (which includes the umbilical cord), and it is your right to keep it. “Depending on the policies of your provider/facility, you may be required to sign a ‘release form’ or ‘liability form’ in order to keep your umbilical cord,” she adds.
Working with a placenta specialist like Merrell is your best bet for a seamless, stress-free, and safe process: “A trained professional is going to be trained/certified in bloodborne pathogens, storage, and sanitation guidelines.” Merrell only works with one cord at a time to prevent cross-contamination or any other mix-ups. “A professional will also wear all needed PPE and all safety procedures are followed, including supplies sanitized and disposed of between each client,” she says. Giving it to a friend or family member might mean they’re dehydrating your cord in a personal kitchen near foodborne items, pets and kids, or other non-trained people, leading to a host of potential mishaps.
Merrell notes that each cord is unique, requiring different preservation methods, and the amount of equipment required often means it’s cheaper and easier to work with a trained professional. “At UCord Keepsakes, it costs $149 total, so by the time you gather a dehydrator, payment paper, finishing/sealing materials, gloves/other PPEs, cutting supplies, sanitation supplies, display box, etc., you’ll likely be over that price point,” she says.
A trained placenta specialist can also create a truly unique work of art, with Merrell noting that some cords are long enough to spell out words like “love” or the baby’s name or initials. “Metallic gold and rose gold options are most popular for finishing, but some moms like to leave them with a clear coating so you can visibly see the vessels that attach mom/baby.”
Isn’t this a little, you know, blech?
If you’re easily grossed out by bodily fluids and the like, your initial reaction might still be, well, grossed out. But before you brand umbilical cord keepsakes as a ridiculous idea, consider this: It helps some people cope with the grief of losing a child.
Merrell, a mom of four living children and a sleeping little boy, is passionate about providing the service, especially to those who have experienced a stillbirth or infant loss and would like a tangible memory of their angel baby. Most cords do work, but both doctors note some instances in which a parent will not be able to keep the umbilical cord after delivery.
“If the cord or placenta is abnormal in any way or was the cause of fetal distress, if there was suspicion of an infection, then you probably wouldn't be allowed to have a section until it had been analyzed by the lab or pathologist,” says Langdon, with Tanouye adding that some complications during pregnancy or childbirth (like an infection) might prevent parents from taking it home. In Merrell’s experience, this is rare, and most parents are able to bring it home without issue.
One final tip, per Langdon: “Make sure you collect the cord blood before you cut a section of the cord for future storage as embryonic stem cells, if that is something you plan to do.” Otherwise, you’ll likely get the green light to preserve such this link between you and your little one — if that’s something that speaks to you. If not, just remember before you bash it... it is very meaningful to some parents.