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Placenta: Medicine, Rituals & Art

September 25, 2009 3 comments

The benefits of your placenta do not have to end after you give birth. This complex organ is revered in many cultures, known as the “tree of life”, the baby’s “first mother”, sibling or friend. There has been little research on placenta to date. However, what is out there supports the theory that consuming placenta may benefit women postpartum. By eating your placenta, you are able to reclaim what is lost due to pregnancy and birth.

Placentophagy may possibly:

  • Stimulate uterine contractions
  • Slow postpartum hemorrhage
  • Replenish nutrients after birth
  • Curb postpartum depression
  • Increase your milk supply
  • Help your uterus return to pre-pregnancy size faster
  • Replenish depleted iron
  • Decrease fatigue
  • Decrease likelihood of insomnia or sleep disorders
  • Enhance pain tolerance
  • Ease of menopausal hormone fluctuations

What does placenta contain?

  • Your own hormones
  • High in vitamins and minerals, such as B6
  • Iron and protein
  • Blood stem cells
  • High levels of prostaglandin
  • Small amounts of oxytocin

One important study of the placenta showed a possible link to postpartum depression:


Placentophagia may also increase a mother’s blood levels of a hormone known as CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone), a known stress-reducer. This hormone is normally secreted by the hypothalamus. According to a study performed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes so much CRH that the levels in the bloodstream increase threefold. However, it was also discovered that postpartum women have lower than average levels of CRH, triggering depressive symptoms. They concluded that the placenta secreted so much CRH that the hypothalamus stopped producing it.” (PBi, Medicinal).

Photograph courtesy of Rachel Radtke

Photograph courtesy of Rachel Radtke

Ingestion


Your placenta can be ingested in many ways. Those who worry about or experience postpartum hemorrhage may want to cut off and ingest a small piece of their placenta right after the birth. You can also stick a small piece under your tongue or on the side of your cheek, and remove after about five minutes. “Studies have shown that eating the placenta triggers the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream, enabling the uterus to quickly heal and tone itself after childbirth.” (PBi, Medicinal Benefits.)

Another great way to reap the benefits of your placenta is to eat it raw, such as in a smoothie. Many say that adding fruit, such as berries, masks the flavor of the placenta very well. By eating the placenta raw, you are retaining much of the vitamins, minerals, and hormones that can be lost when the placenta is frozen, cooked, or processed in any other way.

A growing trend is to encapsulate it, which involves steaming, drying, then grinding it up. This method appeals to many who feel that they will not be able to stomach their raw or cooked placenta. Another interesting way of preserving your placenta is to make it into a tincture that can be taken by dropperful, by either you or your child. This tincture, or “essence”, is a remedy to be used at times of stress, illness, to boost the immune system, and whenever one feels so inclined. Placenta essence can last for years and years as long as it is stored properly.

Proper Care & Handling of Your Placenta


As soon as possible after the placenta has been birthed, it needs to be placed in a food-grade container (glass or ceramic is best, but double bagged Ziploc will also work), sealed tightly and refrigerated. If the family wants to delay cord cutting, this can be done up to three to four hours later, and then the cord must be severed, and the placenta quickly refrigerated in order to safely ingest the placenta later. Please note that you will be unable to have a lotus birth (leaving the cord attached until it detaches on its own) if you want to safely encapsulate your placenta.


If you are having a hospital birth, make your wishes known ahead of time regarding your placenta. They should refrigerate it right after birth, but to be prepared for the unexpected, you should bring a cooler with you to the hospital. If every one is too busy to take care of it quickly, place the packaged placenta on ice within the first hour or so. This will keep it cool enough until the staff has time to take care of it. The cooler is also a good idea for taking the placenta on the ride home. Read more about how to best handle the release of your placenta from the hospital HERE, and download a hospital liability release form HERE.


The placenta encapsulation process should begin 24-48 hours after the birth. It can be done up to 7 days later, but the capsules will not be as effective. If it is not possible to process the placenta within 48 hours, it should be double bagged in Ziploc freezer bags and frozen. Before encapsulation, the placenta should be completely thawed, which takes about 24 hours. The capsules can be frozen, which extends their shelf life from weeks to years. Read more about the care of your placenta HERE.

The Encapsulation Process

Shortly after birth, the placenta can be enapsulated by your partner, friend, family member, or a professional. The placenta can be steamed following the traditional Chinese medicine guidelines, then sliced and dehydrated. Another option is to skip the steaming process altogether. Once dehydrated, the placenta is ground up using a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, blender or food processor. After the grinding, the placenta powder is placed into empty capsules, and there you have it! The number of capsules depends on the size of the placenta, usually around 150 or so.

After the Postpartum Period

Placenta still has benefits even after the initial weeks following your birth. Some women will save some of their capsules in the freezer for when they feel they really need it. Others plan to save theirs for when they reach menopause to ease the transition of hormonal fluctuations.

Beyond the postpartum period, the capsules are beneficial for any stressful transition. Having to leave the baby to go back to work, a job loss in the family, or a move can cause stress that can be helped with placenta capsules. Since the capsules also help with fatigue and milk production, they can be taken any time the mother feels worn down or needs to increase her milk supply.” (PBi, Keeping).

Rituals & Ceremonies

Many families choose to plant their placentas after birth. You can freeze your placenta for as long as you need, even holding a ceremony later on your child’s birthday to honor the placenta and birth. This ceremony can be the closure to your child’s birth, as well as healing any unresolved feelings you have. For ideas on how to create a unique ceremony for your family, take a look at this site’s suggestions.

To plant your placenta, dig the right size hole to hold your placenta and plant. Score the sides of the hole, so that the roots of the plant can take hold easier. Place the placenta at the bottom of the hole, cover with about an inch of soil, then place the plant in the hole and fill it on up. Water your plant according to its needs, and as your baby’s placenta breaks down, the plant will be nourished by it. If you choose to grow a fruit tree, the tree will bear fruit that has grown from your baby’s placenta. This fruit can then go on to nourish your family.

Placenta Art

Placenta prints are another beautiful way to commemorate your child’s birth. You can do this with a fresh or thawed placenta; simply place the placenta vein side down onto paper of your choice. Press down, and then lift up. The blood will act as a paint, and create a lovely tree of life painting. You can also wash the blood off, and paint it with all sorts of colors to make a variety of prints. These prints can be framed to keep as a keepsake of your birth. Read more about how to create placenta prints HERE.

Further reading and viewing:

Placenta Medicine: My Story by Tiffany Rosenbrock

The Placenta in Lore and Legend

Placenta encapsulation video

Sources:

Medicinal Benefits of Placentophagy

MoonDragon’s Placenta Disposal Suggestions, Rituals, and Recipes

Placental Remedy dot com

Proper Placenta Care for Placenta Encapsulation

Scientific research compiled through PBi

The Care and Keeping of Placentas