The Amazing Placenta Part 2: Honoring the Tree of Life

In my part one I lauded the placenta for its uniqueness and powerful function.  I also talked about how cultures around the world (and across time) have honored the placenta as mystical.  Now I’d like to show you a variety of ways you can honor this life-giving organ!  I think there is something in this list for everyone and every comfort level.  I’m generally going to put them in an order from least to most “unusual” – defining unusual as outside the mainstream.

Ways To Honor Your Baby’s Placenta

  1. Wait to cut the umbilical cord. Let the placenta finish its job and ask your midwife to delay clamping and cutting the cord until it stops pulsing. The blood passing from the placenta to your baby is the baby’s blood – it is rich in oxygen and iron and is meant to reach your baby.  Don’t deprive your newborn of this blood.  Oh, and by the way,
  2. Touch the umbilical cord while it is pulsing.  I’m so glad I did this.  You will be absolutely floored at the power pulsing through that thing.  Stronger than any pulse you will ever feel.  It was so awesome to feel that power!
  3. Look at your placenta.  Your midwife has to look at it anyways to make sure there is none retained in the uterus.  Tell her you would like to see it too.  She can explain the different parts.  You know when you lose a tooth how it is cool to see the part your tongue always felt and the part that was unseen under the gums.  This is like that.   Let go of the “ewww” and just be amazed for a moment.
  4. Take a picture of it.  This is the least “involved” way to keep a token of your baby’s placenta.
  5. Plant a Placenta Tree.  This is why we kept Aellyn’s placenta.  As you read in part one many cultures honor the placenta by planting it.  We are freezing Aellyn’s placenta so that she can be part of the planting when she is older but you can also do it up to a few days after birth.
    Aellyn’s Tree of Life Print
    • If you freeze it be sure to thaw it completely a few days before planting it.  
    • Let your child pick their favorite tree/bush to plant and participate in the planting.
    • If weather allows you could plant the tree on the child’s birthday (not here in Ohio on Aellyn’s February birthday).
    • Explain that their placenta gave them life and now this tree will always bloom to honor that life-giving organ. 
    • Place the placenta at the bottom of the hole you dig to plant the tree.  It should be deep so animals don’t try to dig it up.  If you happen to be planting something with a shallow root bulb you may want to put a fence around the area for a few weeks to ensure animals don’t dig for it. 
  6. Make a Placenta Print.  I call this a Tree of Life Print because of the shape.  We also did this with Aellyn’s placenta.  There are several ways to do this.  We did “low-tech” because basically we used regular printer paper and our midwife placed the placenta on the paper – straight down on the paper and then up to make an impression of the vein structure on the fetal side.  The “print” is then done with the residual blood/fluid on the placenta.  Other people actually take the placenta home and paint it with inks to do the print on high quality paper.  Sarah shows how to use the placenta for both blood and paint prints.  I don’t prefer this method since it loses the natural texture of the placenta.  The other method is to make an ink print.  This video shows both methods.

    A beautiful ink-based placenta print
  7. Eating placenta.  The word placenta is from the Latin for “cake” and the eating of the placenta, called placentophagy, is not only practiced in many cultures but by nearly all of our mammalian relatives.  There are three different reasons that scientists believe animals eat their placentas:  (1) It contains prostaglandin which stimulates uterine contractions and thereby reducing the incidence of retained placenta and hemorrhaging, (2) It contains high levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which calms the mother, encourages bonding, and helps her produce milk, (3) to cover any scent which may attract predators during a vulnerable time.  Now hopefully we don’t have to worry about #3 but the benefits of prostaglandin and oxytocin is as much true for humans as it is for other mammals.  There are also other scientific benefits of placentaphagy including reducing post-partum depression.  The placenta can be incorporated into a smoothie raw or cooked in a manner similar to cooking other organ meats like liver.  Here are some recipes for cooking placenta.
  8. Encapsulate the Placenta.  This is another way to consume the benefits of the placenta.  Basically the placenta is dried, ground, and encapsulated for ingestion over several months.  There are professionals that can come to your house to treat and encapsulate the placenta or you can try to do it yourself.
  9. Make a Placenta Teddy Bear.  You can read about this here

I never felt compelled to ingest the placenta.  To me it loses the main point for me which is that the placenta is not mine but Aellyn’s and I want to honor it rather than use it.  However, I fully support women who choose differently.  

Rights To Your Placenta

If you want to bring your placenta home from the hospital ask about it before you give birth.  The birth center where I went didn’t think this was a big deal at all but it was pretty “crunchy.”  Other hospitals will try to convince you it is “medical waste” and you can’t take it home.  You are entitled to your baby’s placenta!  Read here for information on getting your hospital to release the placenta here.  Here is a sample waiver form that you could use.

If they still say they will not give you the placenta, state the fact that you have a “profound belief” in the sacred nature of the placenta. You only have to have a profound belief in something to have it fall into the category of a spiritual/religious belief. So, if you have a profound belief that the placenta will help you postnatally, that counts. Again, you don’t have to say what you will be doing with it – it’s a private matter. A request based on a spiritual belief is more likely to be honored than one based on your desire to ingest it for its purported health benefits, which hospital staff will probably view with skepticism.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought about the Amazing Placenta. Even if none of these methods are for you I hope you have a new respect for mothers who make different choices. They don’t make the choice they have lightly or “to be different.” It is offensive to say “that is disgusting.”  To those who choose it it is a very intentional and spiritual thing.  Western culture might find Gomutra (Holy Cow’s Urine) distasteful but you wouldn’t insult someone who sincerely believes in its use, right? Let’s practice compassion and empathy for our diversity.

Have I left out any key features of or uses of the placenta?  What did you do with your placenta?


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    6 thoughts on “The Amazing Placenta Part 2: Honoring the Tree of Life

    1. Amazing! I wanted to keep my daughters placenta, and had it in my birth plan however she was born at 26 weeks and everything went out the window! I love all the ideas you have! We plan on doing a print the next time around! Thank you for sharing!

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    2. Amazing! I wanted to keep my daughters placenta, and had it in my birth plan however she was born at 26 weeks and everything went out the window! I love all the ideas you have! We plan on doing a print the next time around! Thank you for sharing!

      Like

    3. Question? How long have these practices been around in the US because I never heard of this in the 70’s when I was having babies. Great post.

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    4. I gave consent to have my placenta included in a research study. They were examining the differences in placentas from smokers and non-smokers.

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    5. @HFH – ah that’s a really good use as well. Thanks for adding that to the list!

      @Mom, I don’t know. I know eating and burying are as old as time. I don’t know about artwork and stuff. Don’t worry Librarian Paige will get on the case.

      @Melissa – I can’t imagine what was going through your mind at 26 weeks! Not the placenta! 🙂

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