An almost heart-shaped placenta soon after birth.
It isn’t a common thing to ponder in Western culture, the fate of our placentas, but elsewhere around the world, this temporary organ that was a lifeline to a baby for nine months is given tremendous spiritual significance.
For the most part, hospitals in the U.S. discard the after-birth soon after it is delivered. It is “bio-medical waste” soon to be incinerated, of no more importance than any other tissue which is left in the hospital after it’s previous owner has gone home.
Try telling a Nigerian Ibo or a native Hawaiian the placenta is waste and you might be surprised by the response. They might be offended by the disregard.
The Ibo consider the placenta to have been the baby’s twin. Similar beliefs are found in Malaysia, Java, Bali, Sumatra, and parts of Uganda. Many others see the placenta as having been a benevolent companion, complete with a soul, who keeps the baby company as it develops in the womb. In many other societies, as close to home as Hawaii and Navajo tribes and as far as New Zealand, the life-giving quality of the placenta and it’s connectivity to the nurturing of mother earth is honored by burying it in a revered spot which is sometimes visited when the child is in ill health to ask the placenta to help the child recover.
In fact, burying the placenta is not that an uncommon of a practice in the U.S. and Western Europe, despite the fact that it may not accompany any religious beliefs on the matter.
Still, there are few among us who would feel comfortable slipping some sautéed placenta into a post-partum lasagna, using it as a pizza topping, or mixing in some fresh placenta with beets in a smoothie. Though not nearly a commonplace practice, placentaphagia, or the ingestion of the after-birth by the mother (this term applies to both animals and humans) early in postpartum is maybe not as far out as it seems.
Studies have shown that consuming placenta can do a great deal to bring the uterus back to its normal size and tone, provide mom with much needed iron, and can increase milk production in some mothers. One if the greatest benefits to ingesting placenta is the rebalancing of hormone levels in the postpartum period. These hormones can do a great deal to curb postpartum mood disorders, which can help make the first few months with your newborn less taxing on the mother’s emotional well-being.
If eating placenta seems alien, it’s only become so in more modern times. The Chinese Materia Medica, a resource of traditional Chinese herbal medicines, mentions dried human placenta amongst the listings of mulberry leaves and cinnamon twigs. In many Western European countries, the name give to the placenta literally translates to “mother-cake”. The word placenta in English too has its origins in the birthday baked goods–the Roman called sweet cheese cakes “placenta”.
If the idea of cooking your placenta makes you queasy but you are interested in still reaping the benefits, the process of placenta encapsulation makes it as easy as taking your vitamins.
Placenta encapsulation requires the after birth be kept sterile in transport–the amniotic sack is a sterile area and there is little risk of the mother transmitting anything to the placenta as it leaves her body–and refrigerated in no less than four hours from the time it was delivered. There is about a 48 hour window to start the preparation to get maximum benefits and ensure the placenta isn’t contaminated. The placenta is then steamed, dehydrated, and ground up using a food processor. All the nutritious bits are then placed in dissolvable gel capsules so the placenta can be taken orally. Mom can start taking the capsules right away and could potentially see benefits within the first day.
There are skeptics out there, such as Dr. Maggie Blott of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists, who hold that though most mammals–including herbivores–consume their placentas in the immediate hours after delivery, there is no nutritional benefit to humans who practice placentaophagia. There are some who will still hold that the thought alone is enough to outweigh any value the consumption may or may not hold.
Regardless of your position on the matter, there’s no doubt the alternatives to disposing of the after-birth will continue to show up in national headlines. It has already graced morning news segments on MSNBC, cooking shows in Britain, the Times, and the BBC. Maybe main stream culture will never worship the placenta, but perhaps we’ll see the all that it provides as diminishing whatever “ick” factor it holds.
To learn more about the health benefits of consuming placenta, please visit the following sites:
- Natural News Placenta and Postpartum Depression
- Placenta Rituals from Around the World
- Placenta Benefits
If you are in the Olympia area and are interested in placenta encapsulation, contact Diksha Berebitsky CD (DONA) for rates and services.