The placenta is pure magic to me. It was created for the sole purpose of bringing my children to life and then “died,” a beautiful sacrifice, as they each took their first breath in this world.
I thought I would start with a little anatomy lesson, after all, it’s how the magic happens!
During pregnancy, mothers grow a new organ in their uterus — the placenta. The placenta nourishes her developing baby with oxygen, glucose, and other nutrition while acting similar to a kidney by removing waste materials from the blood. These waste products are then disposed of via the mother’s urine. Throughout the process, the mother and infant’s blood supplies never mix.
The umbilical cord allows this magic to happen by acting as a “life-line” for baby with three blood vessels — two that allow blood to flow to the placenta and a third through which blood flows to the fetus.
The placenta is also responsible for producing hormones. Lactogen ensures that the mama has plenty of glucose available for baby. Estrogen and progesterone are also produced which help prepare the body for labor. They may also be responsible for determining when labor begins.
The placenta is typically attached to the top or side of the uterus and usually shifts to the upper womb by the third trimester. It is expelled from the uterus during the third stage of labor, usually 15-30 minutes after baby arrives.
I can understand why many traditions honor this magical organ.
I read a beautiful article about a traditional practice among the Maori, indigenous people of New Zealand. They practice returning the placenta (or whenua) to the Earth, specifically in a location with ties to their ancestors. It is believed their ancestors are guardians of the land and that people and the Earth are connected.
In Malaysia, the placenta is thought of as a sibling to the newborn baby. They too practice returning the placenta to the Earth after wrapping it and placing in a coconut shell. In the past, in rural Korea, the placenta was burned three days after it was birthed and the ashes were buried or distributed in a linear fashion to represent baby’s longevity.
I am sure there is an abundance of similar rituals throughout the World as well.
There are many ways you too can honor your placenta.
Burying your placenta under a special tree is a beautiful idea as it is symbolic of the tree of life, nourishing baby with her “branches.” You may choose to plant the tree at this time too as it will grow alongside your child.
Placenta art (or a painted print of your placenta) would add a unique decorative touch to your home and allow for reflections of gratitude each time you view it. It is also a sweet way to show and teach any older children about the placenta if they were not present to view it. Similar to art, we had a dreamcatcher made from our umbilical cord.
Many mothers choose to honor their placenta and seek healing benefits by ingesting it. This is typically done in capsule form, although can be taken as a tincture or eaten (raw or cooked). Interestingly, many non-human mammals do eat their placentas.
I was beyond exhausted after the birth of my first son — in fact, I remember thinking I looked quite pale for days. With the hope of finding more energy after my second son’s birth, I decided that I wished to have my placenta encapsulated to ingest during my postpartum recovery.
I also chose to honor this sacred life-giving organ with a colorful placenta print (shown above).