As you go through your pregnancy, you’ll get asked all sorts of questions. Some expected (“When are you due?”), some you’ll get a billion times (“Where are you delivering?”) and some about life post birth (“Are you ready?”). At meetings with your care provider you’ll get asked lots of questions about how you’re feeling and your friends and family will also be eager to know all the details of your pregnancy.
If you’re lucky, however, someone will ask you about your placenta before you give birth. But not because the placenta is that important but because soon after your baby is born, it will be your placenta’s turn to shine. After it’s been birthed, your care provider or the nurse will ask, “Do you want to see your placenta?” and that question often leaves birthing people and their partners staring at each other, totally unsure about what to say.
Perhaps your crunchier friend or doula has brought it up during pregnancy and you’ve been given you a chance to process some information before the moment actually arrives to decide. Or perhaps they brought it up and you were left deer-in-the-headlights, grossed out, unsure, uncomfortable. Maybe they brought it up and it piqued a little curiosity, a desire to know more but from the privacy of your living room behind a computer screen. Maybe it was a mix of both, but I’m so glad you’re here to have the placenta conversation before labour.
You’ve grown an entire organ to sustain the life of your baby and you’ll be offered the chance to see it and even to bring it home. Let’s talk more about how amazing the placenta is before we go on.
1. THE PLACENTA FUNCTIONS AS NUMEROUS ORGANS IN ONE.
It acts as the baby’s lungs by providing oxygen from the mother, as its kidneys by filtering out waste product, and as its gastrointestinal and immune system by delivering nutrients and antibodies. It keeps the mother’s blood supply separate from that of the fetus, while also helping pass nutrients from the former to the latter.
2. THE PLACENTA GIVES THE MOTHER'S IMMUNITY TO THE FETUS
Human mothers and other higher primates (like apes and chimpanzees) start transferring their immunity to the fetus through the placenta, so that the babies are born with double the concentration of blood antibody as their mothers. This means the infants have up to six months of immune protection after birth. After that, they have to start generating their own new antibodies.
3. THE PLACENTA FUNCTIONS WITHOUT DIRECT CONTROL FROM THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
The placenta does not contain any nerve cells, so it cannot be under the direct control of the brain or spinal cord. The placenta develops and functions without being connected to your brain.
4. THE PLACENTA IS THE ONLY DISPOSABLE ORGAN
Although there are other organs that we can function fine without, the placenta is the only organ that naturally expels itself when it's purpose is fulfilled. Each pregnancy grows a new placenta to support that baby perfectly.
If no one has asked you yet, then please allow me the honour:
What are you doing to do with your placenta?
Essentially you have two main options:
When your care provider asks if you want to see your placenta, you can choose whatever feels right. However, they probably will be pretty excited about it because, well, placentas are amazing. Someone on your medical team will have to inspect your placenta and make sure all of it has come out and that’s usually when they ask. If you say no, they will probably assume you don’t want to take it home but that is normally their second question regardless. This is your chance to say yes or no. If you say no, your placenta will be discarded of by your medical team.
2. Take it home
You can choose to take your placenta home, but be sure you’ve brought a cooler with you! The placenta needs to stay on ice because it’s a human organ… especially if you’re going to be ingesting it. Your doula can help prepare the cooler and ensure that your placenta stays somewhere safe before it’s taken home.
So… You’ve decided to keep it. Now what are your options?
1. Placenta encapsulation
You can either choose to outsource this or do it yourself at home. Placenta encapsulation has neither be determined conclusively to be beneficial or harmful, so it really is up to each birthing person and their intuition. There are placenta encapsulation specialists you can hire, your doula might do it, or you can do it once you’re rested and feeling up to it. The method of preparation and dosage can vary, so do your research and make sure you encapsulate responsibly and safely. Some placentas are not safe to eat. Please be sure your care provider is aware of your decision because they will be able to best tell you whether it is safe to consume.
2. Eat it
Yes, placenta encapsulation is kind of like eating it but I’m talking more about fresh placenta. The benefits are not confirmed and are often debated but it’s always an option. Smoothies, lasagnas, stir-frys… I’ll leave it at that.
3. Bury it
Some people decide to keep their placenta until they’re ready to plant something with it. Some beliefs from the past say that the child will always return ‘home’ where their placenta has been buried/planted. Perhaps there is a certain flower or tree that represents your child or family, or a special location that is particularly important to your family. This can be a spiritual way to connect the child with your community and its land. However, be aware that you may want/need to check the legality in your area about where you’re allowed to bury organs.
Another option is to make an art print of your placenta. This can be done with the natural blood of the placenta or with artificial dye. The imprint often looks just like a tree and mirrors the notion that the placenta is the “tree of life”. Check out local doulas, placenta encapsulators, artists or try it out yourself (with the help of some YouTube videos maybe?)
You can send your placenta away to a jewelry-maker and have a totally unique piece made. Often pieces of the placenta are dried and set in resin, which can be made into a necklace, bracelet or ring. Each jeweller will have their instructions on how to prepare and send the placenta, and be sure to connect with the jeweller long before the birth to get all that info.
6. Lotus birth
There is a movement of people who believe that the placenta shouldn’t be separated from the baby until the umbilical cord naturally detaches. A special bag is used to wrap around the placenta and usually it is cured with salts to delay the decomposition and essential oils to prevent any odors. This process often takes between three to ten days and is said to encourage/force parents into slowing down and moving less to rest more during the early postpartum period.
Tell me below or tell me privately!
What are you planning on doing with your placenta?
And if you’ve already given birth, what did you choose and how do you feel about it now?