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Your Placenta: Medical Trash or Family Treasure?

by | March 25, 2019

Curious whether your placenta is medical trash or has useful applications? Author Emma Letessier explores the options and usages of human placenta.

Over the course of your pregnancy, your placenta develops inside your uterus. Attached to the uterus’ wall, it envelops your growing baby, providing all the nutrients and oxygen they need and removing waste from your baby’s blood via the umbilical cord.

With such a vital role to play in growing a baby, it’s unsurprising that many cultures around the world have customs that involve the specific treatment of the placenta once a woman has given birth.

Credits: Sakurra/ Shutterstock

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Your Placenta: Medical Trash or Family Treasure?

Strong tradition

Where I’m from, New Zealand, the Maori would bury the placenta in the earth after placing it in a beautifully decorated, hollowed-out gourd, earthen pot or woven basket. The Maori refer to themselves as the “Tangata Whenua”, which roughly translates to “People of the Land”.

For Maori, burying the placenta in your ancestral grounds provided a physical and spiritual connection with your place of birth, returning it to Papatūānuku, or Mother Earth.

During the colonization of New Zealand, this custom was denied to Maori as the placenta was considered medical waste and the practice of honoring it as primitive and superstitious. Thankfully, “ipu whenua” as it’s called in Maoridom has seen a resurgence among Maori since the 80s.

For many of us who have given birth in Western cultures, we are familiar with the notion that our placenta is nothing more than medical waste. But things are changing and as more families seek to explore their options, many health facilities and institutions are accommodating those who wish to honor the placenta.

Interested in finding out more? Here are just some of the ways that placentas are being celebrated:

Consuming the placenta

A common practice in Chinese medicine, placenta consumption is a controversial tradition, although it’s rapidly becoming more popular thanks to endorsements from celebrity moms such as the Kardashian sisters, Hillary Duff, and Chrissy Teigan.

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There are several ways that you can do it; fry it and eat it like meat (for us vegans this may prove a step too far!); blend pieces of it up in smoothies, make it into chocolates, or the most popular option, having your placenta steamed, dehydrated and ground, and then placed into capsules to be taken like a supplement.

Consuming the placenta is alleged to help ward off the baby blues by increasing the hormones oxytocin (a.k.a. the love hormone) and CRH, a stress-reducing hormone. It is also said to help restore iron levels and increase milk production.

Most of the suggested benefits of consuming the placenta come from anecdotal evidence and not scientific studies, although the few studies that have been done haven’t ruled out or confirmed there is any benefit.

Unique artworks

There are a number of ways to memorialize your placenta artistically. A popular option is the “Tree of Life” print, where your placenta is pressed against paper and the blood acts as the ink. Some people also use paint to create prints with different colors.

Then there are the artworks that are created by shaping, drying and then framing the umbilical cord. Popular shapes include hearts and you can even opt to have it shaped into words like “love”.

Finally, there are the mementos that involve preparing and curing the placenta like leather and then creating items such as teddy bears and baby booties. You can purchase the teddy bear kit and do-it-yourself (although this kit isn’t SFV as it uses eggs in the curing process). Personally, I can’t decide if these are cute or creepy, what do you think?

Homeopathic remedies and tinctures

The homeopathic placenta remedy is called “Placenta Humanum” and can be made at home.

Similarly, for the tincture, a portion of the raw placenta is steeped in alcohol for a period of time. After this, the placenta solids are strained out and the tincture remains. Mothers can use this tincture during times of “transition, illness or stress”. Anecdotally, many women swear it works for PMS, depression and even menopause.

The tincture is used for the child by diluting it in water. It apparently helps when they are getting sick or are unsettled. Practitioners of this remedy aren’t sure why it works but they believe that it seems to bring the child “back to a state of physical and emotional balance”.

Burying the placenta

Last but not least, some families are choosing to bury their placenta in the ground at a location that has significance for them; a practice as I explained with the Maori, that takes place in many ancient cultures.

A further addition to this is to bury the placenta underneath a fruit tree that you select for your child and use the placenta as fertilizer. It’s symbolic as the placenta keeps giving life and nourishment to your child through the tree.

Moms share their experience

Genevieve Orion used her placenta to create beautiful prints on canvas, but she also had a tincture made and had it encapsulated.

“The whole experience was amazing,” she says, “and I’d do it again if I have another baby”.

Courtney Hofverberg also had her placenta encapsulated and she swears it aided her speedy recovery after giving birth and helped her body to bounce back.

“My acupuncturist also returned our umbilical cord to us in the shape of a heart and suggested that we bury it on our property,” she recalls, “we buried it under a peach tree in our yard. Our daughter got to throw in her own umbilical cord at age two as we were gardening. It was a sweet family moment.”

My daughter was born via emergency c-section and despite my request to keep our placenta so that we could bury it on our land and plant a fruit tree, the medical team threw it in the garbage. This was something that felt very wrong to me.

If I was ever blessed enough to have another child, I would definitely like to do something to honor our placenta.

What about you? Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.


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Emma Letessier

Emma Letessier is a freelance copywriter for ethically-minded vegan, eco-living and health & wellness businesses. Learn more at emmaletessier.com.

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