Ahhh, The humble placenta, the life line of our babies. With it’s amazing capabilities, the placenta essentially passes blood from the mother, through the umbilical cord, directly to the baby. This enables our babies to grow, to be nurtured, to be fed essential nutrients and oxygen. Our babies are kept free from toxins as the placenta also acts as a filter and carries away waste.
Basically this one organ, grown by you for a very special reason, acts as three different systems: a kidney that filters waste, a lung that delivers oxygen and removes carbon dioxide and also like the endocrine system which ensures all the right hormones are produced and delivered to the baby. Quite the powerhouse!
As a midwife, I always feel bad for the placenta at delivery (yes, midwives have strange emotions connected to birth). After doing an exceptional job for 9 months, it is delivered after the baby, usually without too much attention, fuss or pain, quickly looked over to check if it is intact and normal, and then… well… to be frank, thrown out! Quite an abrupt end to a 40 week relationship with mother and baby, don’t you think?
Read more: When the Midwife is a Mama-to-be
In many cultures around the world this is not the case: the placenta is acknowledged, revered and considered sacred.
The Ibo of Nigeria and Ghana consider the placenta to be the baby’s twin. Aymara and Quecha peoples of Bolivia say that the placenta has its own spirit.
In some parts of Java and Bali, traditional people view the placenta as the older brother to the child. It is carefully preserved in a special pot, wrapped in white cotton, and is ritually buried with palm trees are then planted to honour the burial site.
The American Southwest Navajo customarily bury a child’s placenta close to their homes to bind the child to its ancestral land and to its people. The Maoris of New Zealand bury the placenta in native soil for the same reason.
And yes… in some cultures eating the placenta is considered the norm to ensure the mother receives all the health benefits she can after her delivery. Pacific Island and Chinese cultures have been doing this for thousands of years. The placenta is full of nutrients to help the mother gain strength after delivery, it contains hormones to help minimise her bleeding and promotes milk production. Research has shown that these hormones can also be linked to a decrease in postpartum depression.
Using placental tissue for the purpose of beatification is a million-dollar industry in Asian countries and is now starting to be recognised in the West.
Not really keen in delving deep into the whole placental tissue… err issue, but want to love your placenta a little more? Here is how you can without the mess or fuss.
1. Placental encapsulation
The modern and “hassle-free” way to consume your placenta, this technique involves drying, and then pounding your placenta into a powder which is then turned into capsules ready for your consumption. Celebrities are getting on the placenta wagon too, with January Jones and Kim Kardashian claiming they took placenta capsules after they had their babies.
Online international companies offer this service from pickup to delivering the finished product.
*Just a note that there is little known research yet to be published on the benefits of this method.
2. Taking your placenta home for burial
There is no accessible and clear law in the UAE about the legality of this but you can go ahead and ask your hospital on their policy. Personally, I know friends taking their placenta home from certain hospitals.
If this practice is not allowed but have a strong cultural belief, you could ask to take a piece of the umbilical cord home instead.
3. Just take a minute to look!
The simplest approach to showing your placenta some love, if you feel that way inclined, is to simply ask your doctor and midwife at your birth to see the placenta. You will marvel at the fascinating way the baby was attached to it and how it was attached to you. Quite often the vessels of the placenta resemble branches of a tree.
Talk of placentas may seem a little “yuck” to some but think about it: without this incredible organ doing its job, not one of us would exist today!
Gold star for hardest worker in the pregnancy definitely goes to the placenta!