The Placenta

Today I want to explore some of the cultural and spiritual beliefs surrounding the beautiful life sustaining organ that is the placenta. Let's take a brief look at how the placenta has been treated historically and some information surrounding ways you can honor your placenta.

As I’m sure you know, the placenta is the organ that grows in the womb during pregnancy. It attaches to the wall of the uterus and the umbilical cord extends out from the placenta and attaches to the baby. The placentas job, in a nutshell, is to provide oxygen and nutrients to the baby while removing all waste products from the babies blood.

In essence it is the lifeline between Mother and Baby.

In modern times the placenta has been all but forgotten. It’s seen as medical waste and meets it demise in a hospital incinerator. This complete disregard and poor treatment of the organ that sustained life, to me mirrors the disconnect occurring in our current society. The disconnection so many people show towards themselves, each other and Mother Earth. But people just don’t know any different!

It is my hope to educate you on the options available regarding your placenta, then it will become the norm for all placentas to be honored in some way. Even if you aren’t ready to think too much about your placenta, I hope by presenting a few different options you will hopefully sprout that into more curiosity.

Let’s take a quick trip back through history, going back as far as the first Australian Aboriginals (30,000 – 40,000 years ago) and the Ancient Egyptians. If a civilization or culture has not participated in placentophagy (which is the act of consuming your placenta post birth), they have at least understood that the placenta is an organ containing so much power. As such they have honored it with in-depth rituals and treated it with complete awe and respect.

In different cultures around the world the placenta is seen as a mother of the child, the brother, sister or companion of the child, the child's double, a spirit, a magical force, a magical charm… and so on…

These cultures have been placing great importance on burying the placenta and returning it to the earth for thousands of years.

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This is the depiction of an Egyptian royal placenta being paraded before the King. Along with having its own heiroglyph, archaeologists have concluded that some royal placentas were even buried in an individual tomb… a fairly elaborate ending for what we routinely dispose of in hospital incinerators and class as medical waste!

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Placental apothecary was practiced during Antiquity, and Hippocratic texts speak of the human afterbirth as an element in the pharmacopoeia (an official publication containing a list of medicinal drugs with their effects and directions for use.)

Placenta remedies have also been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and documented from the 16th Century on-wards.

Historically, the meaning of the old Middle High German word ‘placenta’ is ‘mothers bread’. In Medieval times this word depicted the prenatal processing and nurturing as well as the cooking or baking of the placenta in the oven after birth, after which all women in the family would consume it.

During the years of the burning of the witches a lot of the knowledge of midwifery was lost or forced underground - including the art of placenta healing.

However, there were still a precious few midwives practicing who passed down their knowledge and its popularity slowly began to grow again.

Throughout the 18th century placenta remedies were a found in most European households and were available in pharmacies.

Placenta powder was often given for retained placenta and Madame Louise Toussaint, a French midwife was quoted as stating in 1905 that it was used;

‘For making the milk come abundantly in women who had none, and also for doubling the daily output in nurses.’

In Europe, during the 18th and early 19th centuries, doctors, obstetricians and church men were becoming more and more repelled by the concept of placenta consumption which they likened to the behavior seen in domestic animals, and by the mid 19th century, powdered afterbirth had all but disappeared from pharmacopeia.

These are just some of the different ways that a placenta can be honored:

Delayed cord clamping

Burial

Lotus Birth or modified Lotus birth

Cord Burning

Keepsake jewelery

Print Art

Photography

Placentophagy (encapsulation, smoothie, broth etc)

Tincture or homeopathic remedy

Cord keepsake

Salve or Baby cream

Delayed cord clamping

Honoring the placenta can begin at birth by practicing delayed cord clamping. This is where the cord is allowed to stop pulsing before it is clamped and cut or burned. According to the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine “Delayed clamping the umbilical cord for a slightly longer period of time allows more umbilical blood volume to transfer from mother to infant (up to 1/3) and, with that critical period extended, many good physiological “gifts” are transferred through ‘nature’s first stem cell transplant’ occurring at birth.”

Up to 450ml of blood is the amount of blood that is shared between the baby and the placenta.

At the moment of birth, a baby will have about 300ml of blood in its body which leaves approximately 150ml still in the placenta.

Studies show that after 2 minutes approximately 70% of that blood will transfer to baby BUT if we wait until the cord has completely stopped pulsating all the blood that was meant to get to baby will have done so.

Many healthcare providers will say that 5 minutes max is when cords will stop pulsating but I have personal experience that it can take much longer than that. So if babies cord is immediately clamped and cut – which is still happening in a lot of hospitals, baby will miss out on up to 1/3 of its blood supply.

Practicing delayed cord clamping offers a brilliant start for baby and a fabulous way to let the placenta finish the job it’s been responsible for doing while baby has been in utero.

Burial

Planting of the placenta and returning it to the earth is very common across many cultures the world over.

Aboriginal Elder Minmia, Wirrloo Law-Woman

Minmia discusses the importance of getting the birth ceremony right,which includes honoring the placenta.

Minmia states that placentas are absolutely NOT bio-hazardous waste and that they hold, on the side that is connected to the Mother, the baby’s Miwi print, which is the babies life journey map, their souls destiny for this lifetime. Minmia says that what is supposed to happen is that when babies are born, the cords are left untouched until they stop pulsating. With the cord still pulsing, and as the baby takes its first breath, information is transferred to the baby from the placenta via the cord, on how to follow their map, their Miwi print.

Later, the placenta and the cord are buried in Mother Earth where the Miwi print lies until Mother Earth receives the child first ‘seed’.

As the child's seed hits the Earth it is recognized instantly almost as if it enters a computer data system. Mother Earth then locates the child's placenta and locks in the seed which acts to ground and guide the child throughout their journey in this physical life.

If you feel called to consume your placenta you can certainly do that and you can choose to bury some and consuming some. You can also bury a blood print of the placenta.

Other cultures believe that burying the placenta protects the health of the baby, others believe it brings good luck. Many families choose to bury their child’s placenta under a tree. The placenta can be buried whole (It’s a good idea to give it a few weeks in the earth on its own before planting a tree over the top as it is so full of potent goodies) or one can also bury the dehydrated powder.

Lotus Birth or Modified Lotus Birth

Lotus birth as defined by Shivam Rachana is “The practice of leaving the baby’s cord uncut after birth, so that baby and placenta remain attached until the cord naturally separates, just as a cut cord does, at 2-10 days after birth.”

There are many benefits to having a lotus birth - both physiological and spiritual. It is not possible to have a full lotus birth and encapsulate the placenta for ingestion but a Mother can have a ‘modified lotus birth’ and still encapsulate. A modified lotus birth is waiting until the placenta is born before clamping and cutting or burning the cord.

Another tradition that enables all of the goodies meant for baby to transfer via full placental transfusion is the art of cord burning, which is used instead of clamping and cutting the umbilical cord. The practice of cord burning has been around in some cultures for thousands of years as a way of lowering infection and bleeding after birth. Once the baby and placenta are born the cord is slowly burned through, most commonly with candles. It is a much more gentle separation than clamping and cutting. As long as the whole process is completed within 2 hours of the placenta being born it is still perfectly fine for encapsulation (providing correct storage protocols are followed after). It also really aids in slowing down that golden hour after birth. Cord burning is obviously not allowed in a hospital setting due to fire risk but is really well suited to a home birth setting.

Keepsake Jewellery

You can send off dehydrated placenta to be incorporated into stunning pieces of wearable art, or DIY kits are available.

Print Art

Many different forms of placenta art have been noted throughout history. According to Cornelia Enning “If the baby is lucky enough to be born in the caul (with membranes intact), the parents will keep a small piece of the amniotic membrane. They stretch the skin to be dried and paint symbols from religion, astronomy and nature onto the parchment like tissue later. In Islamic countries, parents most commonly choose ‘The eye of Fatima’, whereas in Christian countries a picture of the child’s patron saint is very popular.”

A popular form of placenta art in modern times is a blood print of the fetal side of the placenta, which depicts the ‘tree of life’.

Photography

I can almost guarantee you will so appreciate having a photograph keepsake of your babies placenta.

As an encapsulator I have had many clients initially say that they haven’t wanted to see any photographs of the placenta but if I offer again when I drop off their completed package they almost always say yes and are BLOWN AWAY by this phenomenal organ.

With all of the fun apps available these days you can also play around with applying filters which can make some cool cosmic prints.

Placentophagy

Placentophagy is the act of eating or consuming the placenta after childbirth. It is a phenomenon observed in all mammals (aside from aquatic mammals and camels). It is currently undergoing a revival in Western culture due to its many reported benefits including, but not limited to:

  • Increased Mother-Infant Bonding

  • Reduction of Postnatal Bleeding

  • Supporting Lactation

  • Helping to Prevent Postpartum Depression

  • Reduced Postpartum Pain

  • Replenishes Nutrients

  • Increases Energy

  • Quicker Postpartum Recovery

  • (Robin Lim, The Forgotten Chakra)

  • The process of encapsulation is as follows – The placenta is first steamed (for the traditional method only) then finely sliced, dehydrated, ground into a fine powder and placed in capsules for consumption. It ends up being as easy as taking a vitamin.

The broth from the steaming process can also be saved for ingestion or to be added to cooking.

Some people choose to ingest raw pieces of their placenta post birth in smoothies.

This can be done immediately after birth, or small pieces can be cut and frozen then added to smoothies in the days following.

Tincture and Homeopathic Remedy

This is the method of preserving and steeping a piece of the placenta (or dried placenta if it is chosen after encapsulation has occurred) in distilled alcohol over several weeks, after which it is strained and ingested, usually by drops directly on the tongue or into a glass of water. It is said to benefit mothers during times of stress and transition. A tincture has an indefinite shelf life and can be saved to use during weaning if breastfeeding, or even menopause.

Tinctures can also be turned into essences and homeopathic remedies by trained professionals. These heal on vibrational and energetic levels. According to placentaremediesnetwork.org “making a homeopathic placenta remedy can be used as your child’s constitutional remedy for life since it was their life-giving source for their time in-utero. It contains the blueprint of his/her energetic make-up and hence, the amazing ability to bring balance and illicit healing from within when illness, disease, emotional challenges, or difficult life transitions arise.”

For further information on homeopathic placental remedy, including case studies, head to moonsong.com.au/placental-remedy/

Cord Keepsake

Many families choose to have their babies umbilical cord dehydrated and turned into a keepsake.

They include them in baby books, keepsake boxes or bury them ceremonially.

In many cultures it is tradition to bury the cord as a sign to keep the child grounded throughout their life and ensure they always return home.

Ibu Robin Lim claims that the tradition of making a dream catcher from the umbilical cord has “roots in Ojibwe and Chippewa Native American history.” Also, according to Cornelia Enning “Australian Natives make necklaces from the cord for the children, who wear them for protection from disease.”

If you are planning on ingesting your placenta, it it really important to use a trained professional. Getting the placenta encapsulated professionally means so many more of the nutrients, hormones and proteins are retained as opposed to a DIY home job in the over, which essentially just cooks the placenta slowly.

Salve or Body Cream

The healing properties of the placenta when applied topically have been noted for centuries. Many cosmetics currently on the market contain sheep placenta, which is labeled as ‘polypeptides’, ‘hyaluronic acid’ and ‘protein hydrolysate’. There are many recipes online with step by step instructions on how to create your own healing salve or body butter incorporating your own dehydrated, powdered placenta. Just so long as the placenta has been dehydrated safely by a trained professional you can get creative with the powder!

There are many many options for honoring the phenomenal placenta.

The link for my research presentation is; http://nurturethegoddess.com.au/placentaservices/

The link to Janes interview series with Aboriginal elder Minmia is; https://janehardwickecollings.com/category/indigenous-wisdom/minmia/

The link to more info for tincture and remedy at; http://www.moonsong.com.au/placental-remedy/