Here’s something you don’t see everyday: A video of an en caul birth, showing a newborn being “unwrapped” from its amniotic sac, is going viral. It’s a fascinating look at an incredibly rare phenomenon, and, if you’re anything like me, it’ll fill you with dueling thoughts along the lines of “This is a stunning depiction of the miracle of life. But also it’s basically a scene from Alien.”
Babies who are born “en caul” are born fully encased in their amniotic sacs. (During pregnancy, these sacs are full of amniotic fluid that surrounds and protects the fetus.). This type of birth is sometimes also called a “veiled birth.” In the vast majority of births, the amniotic sac ruptures during labor; in fact, when a pregnant woman’s “water breaks,” it’s really the sac breaking and the amniotic fluid coming out. In an en caul birth, the sac stays intact throughout labor, and it has to be manually opened to release the baby. Some babies are also born “with a caul,” which means that, though they are not completely encased in their sacs, they are born with some piece of the sac remaining on their heads.
En caul births are incredibly rare. According to BabyMed, fewer than one in every 80,000 births involves being born with a caul. This statistic includes both babies born with a caul (just on part of the head) and babies born en caul (completely encased), which suggests that the number of babies born en caul is even tinier.
Osteopath Mona V. Elsness recently posted a video of an en caul birth on Instagram. The mesmerizing footage shows a newborn stretching the sac with its hand, and medical professionals carefully peeling the sac away as the baby emerges.
Most en caul births occur when a baby is premature, and they are more common in C-sections than vaginal births. “Babies aren’t harmed or at any increased risk from an en caul delivery,” Dr. Donnica Moore, a women’s health expert, told TODAY. “The membranes protect the baby from birth trauma. In fact, old wives tales and legends say that babies born this way are endowed with special powers of luck, affinity for water and clairvoyance.”
Fun fact: Oscar winner Mahershala Ali’s new daughter, born in February, had an en caul birth. Maybe she’ll be an Olympic swimmer. Or clairvoyant. Or both!