As a pregnant mama, you’ve probably heard every crazy birth story there is to tell, from unexpected places mothers gave birth to women not even knowing they were expecting. One story you may have heard is a baby being born “in the caul.” This means the baby was born with his or her face and head, and sometimes torso, covered in a thin membrane from the amniotic sac.
The membrane is also referred to as a cowl, shirt, or veil. It can give the baby a distorted appearance, but it’s harmless and easily removed after birth.
10 Different Types Of Caul
A very rare situation is when the caul is made from non-amniotic tissue. This type can leave scarring on the baby if the membrane isn’t removed slowly and carefully. Another variation is for the baby to be born completely encased in the amniotic sac. This event is called being born “en caul” and, although it seems more extraordinary, is more common than caul births.
In this case, the baby’s entire body is still inside the bag of waters, which never burst during labor. You may have seen cool photos of this on social media or news sites. These snapshots give you a glimpse of what your baby looked while inside of you, all curled up and protected by something your own body made.
9 How Common Is It?
These phenomena only occur in one out of every 80,000 births. What makes being born partially or completely in the amniotic sac so rare? Does it have any significance? Let’s take a closer look at the details surrounding caul and en caul births. A good place to begin is with understanding more about what the amniotic sac is and what it does.
8 The Amniotic Sac
The amniotic sac is also known as the bag of waters because that’s basically what it is. It surrounds the baby, placenta, and umbilical cord and is filled with warm fluid. The amount of fluid it holds increases as your baby grows. Having too much (polyhydramnios) or too little (oligohydramnios) fluid can cause complications.
7 Function of the Amniotic Sac
The sac protects your baby from external bacteria and viruses and provides cushion from bumps. It also allows the baby to practice breathing and to develop muscle strength as she or he moves around. For multiple babies, they usually each have their own sac.
It’s possible for them to share one, but it only happens less than 1 percent of the time and is very risky because the lack of a divider increases the chances of the umbilical cords becoming wrapped or kinked.
6 A Sign of Labor
One of the signs that labor may be imminent is once the amniotic sac ruptures. You’ve probably heard of this as your water breaking. Although this part of labor usually is portrayed in media or pictured in your mind as a big burst, it more often happens as a continuous leak of fluid. You may even feel as if you’re going pee. You can tell the difference between the two by the color.
Amniotic fluid is clear; other colors, such as green from the baby’s meconium, can be signs your baby is in distress. Also, you can stop pee by contracting your pelvic floor muscles. If you try, but are still leaking, then it’s amniotic fluid.
5 Rupturing the Amniotic Sac
The sac can rupture multiple times during birth. A gush is usually the result of the forewater (fluid in front of the baby’s head) breaking and is more common in occiput posterior (“sunny side up”) births. Leaks occur when the membrane breaks behind the baby’s head and water has to trickle out past the baby’s head.
Your care provider may also rupture the sac artificially (also known as stripping the membranes) to try to induce or speed up labor. Whether it happens naturally or artificially, most hospitals put you on a 24-hour time limit for giving birth to prevent infection. With the right safety precautions, however, you may be able to go longer than the allotted time.
4 When It Happens
En caul births occur because the amniotic sac never ruptures during birth or before a C-section, or the scalpel never pierces the sac during a Cesarean incision. For this reason, it is more common with very fast labors and babies who are born prematurely.
Studies have shown that en caul vaginal births and C-sections can be safer for premature babies by protecting them from the pressure of strong contractions or surgery and lowering the risk of asphyxiation (suffocation).
3 What It Means
Not surprisingly, there is a lot of superstitions about being born in the caul. Babies who have this experience—but not an en caul birth—are called caulbearers and are usually associated with positive and/or mystical qualities, such as increased perception, leadership skills, or sainthood.
People living in medieval times viewed cauls as sources of power or good luck. They would save cauls by rubbing them off with paper and then sell them to sailors as protection against drowning. This belief was held even into the nineteenth century. In some Eastern European countries, cauls are seen as bad omens.
Cauls and the superstitions around them are also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the movies Oscar and Lucinda and The Shining, the play Gypsy: A Musical Fable, and the short story “The Scarlet Ibis.”
2 Famous People Born in the Caul or en Caul
These famous people reportedly were born in the caul.
- Sigmund Freud
- Lord Byron
- Alexander the Great
In 2011, actress Jessica Alba’s baby girl Haven was born en caul.
1 Will Your Baby Be the 1 in 80,000?
Perhaps your baby will be one of the very few who is born “behind the veil” or inside an intact amniotic sac. This is why it’s so important to have a camera or your phone ready to forever capture that amazing moment! If you are at risk for a premature labor, it may be wise to discuss with your doctor keeping your baby en caul if possible.