Honouring the placenta

Published on 21 December 2023 at 21:49

How will you honour your placenta?

There are many options:
💛 Eat the placenta

🧡 Incapsulate it and take it as medicine 

💙 Make a placenta print art and hang it on your wall

🩵 Make placenta and/or cord art

💜 Plant it on a beautiful spot or underneath a tree

🤍 Keep baby attached to the placenta until the cord lets go by itself

❤️ Donate to the hospital

🩶 Nothing…. Dispose as medical waste

 

Placenta colours born in trust

But let´s start at the beginning...

Your placenta is a unique and temporary organ that connects you to your baby. The function of your placenta is crucial for a successful pregnancy and is formed during the first three months of pregnancy and expelled after your baby is born. The DNA of the placenta is the same as the DNA of your baby and thats why in some cultures it´s seen as the twin of the baby.

Your placenta consists of 2 parts; yours and your baby's part. A significant amount of your baby´s blood flows closely alongside your blood vessels. This allows an exchange of substances and gases. While your blood and that of your baby flows in close proximity within the placenta, your circulatory systems remain separate.

 

After your fourth month, it grows parallel to the development of your uterus. By week 20, yourplacenta will take on a more mature form, with increased efficiency in meeting the growing demands of your baby. Once completed, your placenta will weigh about 650 grams and have the shape of a disc, about 20 cm in diameter and 3 cm thick.

You are connected to your baby through the umbilical cord, together with the placenta they are your baby´s lifeline during your baby´s time in your womb. The placenta has several functions;

  • Provides oxygen and nutrients until shortly after birth through the umbilical cord

  • All main pregnancy hormones are produced in, around or with help of the placenta and womb lining

  • Carries antibodies from your bloodstream to your baby

  • Picks up harmful waste and carbon dioxide from your baby´s blood

 

Although an amazing organ your placenta cannot filter out everything. Alcohol, medicines, nicotine, other toxins unhealthy food and too much sugar are not filtered out. These substances can have a huge influence on your baby, not just during pregnancy but during the rest of your baby´s life. For example eating loads of sugar during pregnancy can increase the chances on diabetes during the rest of your baby´s life.

 

Text: You are not finished just yet when your baby is born


What happens when you birth your placenta?

Now starts the third stage of labour; the expelling of your placenta.

In an undisturbed physiological birth and after birth, thanks to the natural oxytocin release, the uterus will contract again. The muscle fibres of the uterine will retract and constrict the mothers blood vessels that where previously feeding the placenta. This results in the placenta letting go of the uterine wall. The contractions continue and push the placenta out while also compressing the blood vessels, which will prevent further bleeding. The place where the placenta was attached is a wound which will become smaller in size since the uterine will keep contracting and become smaller as soon as the placenta is out. This is a miraculous system that works very well… until it is interrupted. Oxytocin is a sensitive hormone and when birth or the period after birth where stressful, interrupted or interfered with it can influence the oxytocin supply.

How long does it take to birth your placenta?

When left to nature usually the placenta comes by itself somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes after birth, but it can take longer. While you are waiting for your placenta you can hold your baby, preferably skin to skin, let your baby crawl up to your breast and let your baby latch for the first time by itself. This will all help with producing oxytocin, which in turn will help the placenta to let go of your womb lining and be birthed. All the while your baby can still be attached to the umbilical cord or when the umbilical cord is white it can be clamped and cut if you wish.

Although your body is well designed and normally does not need any active management to birth the placenta. In many midwives practices and hospitals it´s part of the protocol to actively manage the third stage. When you don´t want the injection it´s good to include this in your birth preference sheet. If you want to know why oxytocin is given after birth check the FAQ about oxytocin.

Alternatively, some women choose to have an injection of synthetic oxytocin to encourage the placenta to come out. The exact drug that is used differs and has different effectivity and side effects. If you choose an actively managed third stage it´s advisable to speak about this with your healthcare provider and ask her which drug is normally used and what the effectivity and side effects are. When and if the drug is routinely administered depends on several factors; how your labour was, the preference of the healthcare provider, hospital, clinic or midwives practise protocol, etc. When you don´t want the injection it´s good to include this in your birth plan.

Another option is to have a delayed managed third stage. In this option you wait with the injection until after the umbilical cord is clamped. This way the drugs don´t pass on to your baby. There are different views on how harmful the drugs are for your baby in the amount that is administered. If you consider third stage this is also something to take into account when making your decision.

Most important; the choice is yours! Whether you choose physiological third stage (no injection), Active Management of third stage (immediate injection) or delayed Active Management of third stage (waiting until after cord is clamped to get the injection).

What does delivering your placenta feel like?

To every women it feels different. Some feel again some contractions and feel the urge to push and some don´t feel it or merely feel it as if there is some light bowel movement when the placenta loosens. The birthing of the placenta is described in various ways; much easier then birthing the baby, as a nice warm soft relieve, a warm mushy mass coming out, and probably many more ways to describe it. 

Now finally; what to do with your placenta?

There are many options:


💛 Eat the placenta

You might get the shivers thinking of eating your placenta, but there really are women who do this and claim to benefit from it. The benefits that are claimed are quicker recovery, more energy, and prevention of post-natal depression. Unfortunately we only have the testimonies of the women who did this and there is no evidence to support these claims. The way you can eat it´s to cut it in thin slices and put it in a fruit or veggies shake, raw. There are articles online which explain this in more detail, with recipe.

 

🧡 Incapsulate it and take it as medicine 

Another way to have the same benefits is to incapsulate the placenta. Also here in Spain and the region of the Costa del Sol / Malaga there are midwives and doula´s who do this. The placenta is then dried and crushed into powder, the powder is put into capsules and that how you can take it without the organ taste in your smoothie, although I have heard that if you make the smoothie well you don´t even taste it. When you want to incapsulate the placenta and you are birthing your baby in the hospital ask the midwife or doula who is doing the encapsulation how to keep the placenta good and how to transfer it. When at home you can keep your placenta in the fridge for up to three days.

capsules placenta encapsulation

💙 Make a placenta print art and hang it on your wall

This is what I did myself. The placenta is such a beautiful organ to see, I made into wall art for my living room. The placenta print looks like a tree and I personally see it as the tree of life. You can do it yourself or ask your midwife is she can do it. Is pretty simple. You put the placenta on a big peace of paper with the part that shows you the ¨tree¨, this is where the umbilical cord is connected, make sure there is not too much blood on it because this makes stains and it makes the picture of the tree less clear. Another option is to use paint instead of the blood. You can do it in any colour you like. I used thick aquarelle paper when I did it myself, simply because this is what my midwife used for my oldest daughter and it looks beautiful.

 

🩵 Make placenta and/or cord art

Sometimes the cord is put in a certain shape (often a heart) and photographed. This can be done with or without your baby still connected to the placenta through the umbilical cord. Sometimes just the cord is photographed in a certain shape.

💜 Plant it on a beautiful spot or underneath a tree

An old ritual is to burry the placenta and then plant a tree there as a symbol for new life. When you would bury it next to a young tree you can see the tree growing as your child grows. There are cultures where it´s believed that burying the placenta binds the child to the ancestral land and people. They bury the placenta with a ritual and honour the work it did. If you don´t feel like eating the placenta or making a print of it but you do want to honour the placenta, a respectful burial can be a beautiful way to do this. If you want to burry the placenta, but want to wait until you have some strength you can keep the placenta either in the fridge for a few days or you can put it into your freezer.

Cherry Tree in blossom,  to plant the placenta underneath

🤍 Keep baby attached to the placenta until the cord lets go by itself

This is called a lotus birth. This is a new western practice, but there are similar practises known in indigenous cultures. In this practise the bond between your baby and your placenta is being honoured. The placenta is seen as the twin since they share the same DNA and where together during the time in the womb, it has been one unit all that time. The idea is that by cutting the cord the unit is broken in an artificial way and with outside force. When having a lotus birth the baby is given the time to say farewell to the placenta and it´s left to nature when the time has come to let go. In this practice you wait until the cord dries and then after a few days falls off by itself. The parents choosing this type of birth assume that, although there is no blood flow anymore to the baby, there is still a flow of energy from the placenta to the baby.

For some this is not so practical since you then have to cary around baby and placenta all the time, others like it because this way visitors stay at a distance naturally and it keeps mom in bed since its not so easy to walk around with both baby and placenta.

Another options would be the half lotus. This is where you keep the umbilical cord attached to your baby until a few hours after birth. Also with the half lotus the advantage is that the umbilical cord is not pulsating at all anymore and your baby doesn’t have to abruptly say farewell to the placenta. I did this simply because I didn’t want to rush anything, I wanted be sure all the blood went to my daughter and I also found it a beautiful sight to see how baby and placenta are attached.

 

❤️ Donate to the hospital

Umbilical cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta. By donating it, you can save a life. Thanks to the stem cells in umbilical cord blood, patients with various diseasessuch as leukaemia, patients with bone marrow abnormalities and patients with compromised immune systems can be helped. The diseased stem cells are then replaced with the stem cells of your placenta and umbilical cord which can result in 50% of the cases in healing. The only problem with this is that the cord is clamped before it stopped pulsating. Which means your baby doesn’t get all the blood that it otherwise would get. This can be a difference of up to 1/3 of the blood it would otherwise get. Consequently this means that your baby gets less iron and nutrients. This is not what I consider a good start for your baby, but of course the choice is yours.

🩶 Nothing…. Dispose as medical waste

For a healthy baby a healthy and good functioning placenta is essential. In spite of that often the placenta is not being recognized for this incredible important job that it did and thus disposed of as medical waste. This is of course also a choice you can make if you don´t want to do anything with it or don’t know what to do with it. But maybe this article gave you an idea of other options and you now want to consider a way to honour your placenta.

 

What will you do with your placenta?

Do you have any idea how you will honour your placenta? I would love to hear your ideas and insights! You can share your thoughts below.

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These pregnancy, birth and postpartum blog stories you might also like:

Want to delve into the material yourself? Good idea! Here are my sources

Dr Rachel Reed, Midwife thinking, on actively managed placental birth

2015 Mar 5; 370(1663): 20140066. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0066

 

Cleveland Clinic Health Articles Oxytocin

Prevost, M. et al. (2014) "Oxytocin in Pregnancy and the Postpartum: Relations to Labor and Its Management", Frontiers in Public Health, 2. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00001.

2021; 12: 742236, Published online 2021 Oct 27. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2021.742236 PMCID: PMC8578887 PMID: 34777247

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