Baby + Child, Pregnancy + Birth

Honoring the Placenta After Birth

Photo Source: Tribe de Mama
Updated February 27, 2022

In most of the developed world, once a baby is delivered and their umbilical cord has been severed, the placenta, or “afterbirth,” is thoughtlessly disposed of as medical waste. However, many traditional cultures have beliefs and customs that honor the placenta and its important role in the bringing a child into the world.

“In Bali, for example, the placenta, or ari-ari, is said to live on in spirit as one of the child’s four siblings or guardian angels, which can be called on in times of need. A Balinese child greets his or her placenta on rising in the morning and prays to it for protection at night. Every new moon and full moon, and on each holy day, offerings are placed at the burial site of the placenta.

After death, the placenta is believed to accompany the soul of the deceased to heaven to testify as to whether the person fulfilled his or her duty in this lifetime,” says Dr. Sarah Buckley (191).

There are many different and beautiful ways to honor the placenta after birth. The following are a few ideas.

Placenta Consumption aka Placentophagia

There are various options for consuming one’s placenta and many reported benefits to doing so. I’ll go much deeper into the finer details of all the methods I describe below in my next post, Placentophagia: Eating your Placenta.

Remember to treat your placenta like you would a fine cut of meat. It should be refrigerated if you don’t plan to eat it the same day and frozen if not fully consumed within a few days of birth.

Below is a brief overview of the ways one can eat placenta.

Raw

Some women choose to eat a small piece or two of their placenta raw & coated in honey immediately after birth as it is said to help reduce risk of and/or stop post-partum hemmorhage. Others like to add pieces of raw (or frozen) placenta into a smoothie to give them a boost after birth and in the immediate post-partum period.

Encapsulated

This is a popular way to consume placenta as capsules are easy to store & take. They are also less “gross” for some mothers than the other types of placentophagy.

There are two main ways to prepare the placenta for encapsulation. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine method, the placenta is steamed, then dehydrated before being ground up and put into capsules. The Raw Method involves dehydrating the placenta raw, then powdering it and encapsulating it.

Regardless of preparation method, placenta capsules should be stored in the freezer if not consumed within 6 weeks or so.

Cooked

The options for cooking with placenta are endless. I’ve heard of women enjoying their placenta in tacos, lasagna, pâté, stroganoff, pizza, and stew. Truly, any recipe you would add meat to could be improvised to include placenta.

My daughter’s placenta tincture

Tinctured

You aren’t technically eating placenta when you take it in tincture form, but doing so is another option for consuming your placenta.

Placenta tincture is pretty straightforward to prepare. The basic instructions are to put a small piece of the placenta into a jar and fill the jar with alcohol. You’ll need only a very small piece of placenta for this. After a few weeks, strain out the placenta piece and re-bottle your finished tincture. This is a very stable preparation that can be kept for years. Just be sure to store it in a cool, dark place to help it last.

Lotus Birth

Photo Credit: @davina_thompson

Another way to honor the placenta after birth is by allowing it to detach from baby on its own time (usually 3-9 days after birth), instead of severing the umbilical cord.

Midwife, Robin Lim, says of Lotus Birth, “It is not for everyone, but it is worth the trouble. Families must be more mindful and move more slowly when handling the baby who is left intact with his or her umbilical cord and placenta. Although the baby who has had a few hours with her placenta has already gotten 99% or more of the benefits of delayed cord severance, I love Lotus Birth and feel it is the best possible start we can give our babies and grandbabies” (78).

Lim shares beautiful Lotus Birth stories & further information in her book, Plancenta: The Forgotten Chakra. She also describes the basic process for having a Lotus birth, which includes the following steps:

  • Rinse the placenta thoroughly with water & pat dry
  • Salt the placenta generously, making sure all the folds are salted
  • Line a small basket with a cloth diaper or towel & place the placenta in it momma side down
  • Add more salt to baby’s side of the placenta and tuck the basket next to the baby

Lim offers the following tips for a successful Lotus Birth (88-89):

“A basket is better than a bowl, as it allows the placenta to breathe, preventing odor (washing and salting the placenta prevents odor too). Make sure to change the placenta diaper every few hours, as it will absorb moisture from the placenta.”

She also suggests blending some aromatic herbs with the salt sprinkled on the placenta. Lim says she uses nutmeg most often, as it is what is what is easily available in Indonesia, where she lives. But, any aromatic herb will do. You can use rosemary, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger), or lavender flowers.
Photo credit: @homeinthehive

For me, having a Lotus Birth rules out placenta consumption. I wouldn’t leave a steak out for several days and then cook it up for dinner. I have heard of people eating their placenta after a Lotus Birth, but I’m still not convinced that it’s the best idea. Of course, as with everything, you will want to use your best judgement and do what feels right to you.

Photo credit: @placenta_art

Placenta Prints

This is an easy option for honoring baby’s placenta. Simply pat the placenta a bit, but don’t get it too dry as the blood acts as ink. Then carefully place it down on a large piece of white/light paper.

Once it has dried well, spray a bit of art fixative spray or hair spray over it and let it dry again. You may choose to do prints of both sides of the placenta, or just the baby side. You could also your placenta with a thin layer of paint (as it appears the artist above did) before laying it down on the paper. Though doing so rules out eating the placenta afterwards.

Plancenta Ceremonies

It can also be very lovely to have a ceremony to help honor the placenta. Even if you want to consume part of the placenta, you can still save the less edible pieces of it to be used in ritual.

If you don’t plan to do your ceremony within a few days after birth (which is very possible considering you will be recovering and caring for a newborn), pop your placenta into a heavy duty Ziplock bag, label it, and store it in the freezer until you are ready.

One option is to bury the placenta and plant a tree over it. Some people choose to plant the placenta in a beautiful spot in the forest or where the child was conceived. You may want to write a letter of wishes for the child and include it in the burial. The placenta can also be buried in a pot so it be moved if necessary.

You could also to chose to take the placenta out to sea and give her to the ocean. You may wish to include friends and family in the ceremony to help bless the placenta and put it to rest.

Photo Source: Birth Unscripted

I recently read a beautiful account of a placenta ceremony on Hannah Grace’s (@webofgrace) Instagram. Perhaps it will provide some further inspiration for your own placenta rituals.

“I birthed my son on the Libra new moon, 12 moons ago. So 2 days ago on the Libra new moon this year, I buried the last of our placenta beneath the Cedar tree that we planted and nourished with the magic & bloody water from the bathtub after our birth.

I held the placenta in my hands chanting ‘release’ just as I did during the birth of our placenta & cord burning ceremony. I rested the precious organ deep in the hole I had dug, then picked a sprig of cedar and burned it as I said prayers for my son & Mother Earth. With blood on my finger tips, I wrote my son’s name on the back of the drum that I made for him days before he was born. I covered our placenta with dirt handful by handful. Then chanted again with a steady beat on the drum.”

Photo Credit: Tree of Life Birth Photography

Keeping Your Placenta

Birthing at home makes it easy to keep your placenta. Just be sure to discuss your wishes with your midwife (if hiring one) to ensure that they will honor & carry out your requests. If you have your baby at a hospital or birth center, they may have protocols for how they treat so called “medical waste” that could make it difficult for you to keep your placenta.

However, planning ahead may make it possible for you to determine how your placenta is handled. Discuss your wishes with your doctor or midwife and find a new birth facility or health care provider, if necessary.

Be certain that everyone on your birth team is clear about your wishes for the placenta. A doula, friend, or family member who will be at the birth should be responsible for protecting the placenta to allow your partner to be fully present in bonding with you and the baby.

Pack two heavy duty Ziplock bags or a large bowl with a tight fitting lid to store the placenta until you get it home.

Because the placenta is essential to the survival and well being of a baby throughout pregnancy, pausing to acknowledge it’s important role in sustaining baby in it’s earliest days is an important part of a peaceful birth process.

How did you honor your placenta after birth? I’d love to hear about any special rituals you have.

To read more about the process of severing the umbilical cord and separating baby from their placenta check out my post: Severing the Umbilical Cord: Preparing For your Baby’s Separation from their Placenta After Birth


References:

Buckley, Sarah J., MD. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.

Buckley, Sarah J., MD. “The Amazing Placenta.” Mothering. December 18, 2010. http://www.mothering.com/articles/the-amazing-placenta.

DiBenedetto, Katie. DIY Placenta Edibles.

Lim, Robin. Placenta: the Forgotten Chakra. 65, 73-89, 119-126.

Kristal, Mark B. “Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia.” Neuroscience & Biobehavorial Reviews 15. 1991. 425-435. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0149763405800351

Kristal, Mark B. “Placentophagia: A Behavioral Enigma.” Neuroscience & Biobehavorial Reviews. February 2, 1980. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0149763480900123

Saldaya, Emilee. “What to Do with the Cord? (And Placenta!)” Free Birth Society Podcast. April 5, 2019. https://www.freebirthsociety.com/blogs/the-free-birth-podcast/what-to-do-with-the-cord-and-placenta

Selander, J. Human maternal placentophagy: a survey of self-reported motivations and experiences associated with placenta consumption. Ecol Food Nutr. 2013;52(2):93-115.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23445390/

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