Stuff that you can do with a placenta...

I had some complications in the later weeks of my previous pregnancy (which were expertly managed and didn't cause any problems, and, thankfully, aren't effecting me again in this pregnancy) which I may blog about on another occasion, but in short, Seb's placenta was of particular interest to the medical research community and was therefore donated to increase understanding of the condition that bothered me. I never really considered the options open to me in terms of what to do with Seb's placenta, as I was very keen for it to be used for specific medical research anyway, and to be honest, my attitudes towards such things at that time considered, I wouldn't have wanted to look at it, let alone do anything other than have someone else dispose of it, anyhow.
This time around, whilst I'm a huge advocate for "natural birth" (still despise that terminology but struggling to come up with an alternative that fits) and all that comes with it, I do draw the line at a few common placenta based practices. A majority of these, I should say, are more spiritual than they are evidence based in their advantages, and as such, they'll fit in perfectly with one person's understanding of the world, and sit wildly at odds with another's; which is why I pass absolutely no judgement what so ever on what someone chooses to do with their placenta after birth, and in fact, I'm incredible fascinated by the things people opt for.
I thought, as it interests me so much, I'd write a post today about just some of the options available to post partum couples - these certainly aren't for everyone but please don't leave comments about certain practices being "disgusting" or "wrong" - I believe very much in an "each to their own" birthing community and whilst I won't be opting for some of these choices, to others they are an important spiritual and health focussed part of their birth story, and shouldn't be open to negative judgement.
Delayed Cord Clamping - this is something I personally champion at any given opportunity. Babies are only born with around two thirds of their potential blood volume, the remaining third being in the placenta and umbilical cord. By delaying the clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord, you can allow your baby to receive this remaining third, with a huge number of proven health benefits. Ideally, the umbilical cord should have stopped pulsating and should have turned white before it is clamped and cut. To find out more about delayed cord clamping and it's benefits, you'll find a good selection of resources here.
Cotton Cord Ties - Usually a baby's umbilical cord is clamped using a plastic, peg like clamp, to prevent the flow of blood from the cord stump and to protect the baby from infection. The clamp is left attached to the umbilical stump until it dries and drops off somewhere after three days post partum. Plastic cord clamps are perfectly safe, albeit unattractive and a little inconvenient for changing and dressing. A cotton cord tie provides and alternative to the plastic clamp, and secured the umbilical stump without getting in the way. The tie, being more discreet, is arguably more comfortable for baby too as it doesn't catch on clothing and nappies easily. There are lots of very cute tie designs available. If sterilised before use (you can just pop the tie in the freezer to kill any potential bacteria on the cotton) then cotton cord ties present few known hygiene risks.
Burning of the Umbilical Cord - This is something I only learned about very recently on Instagram (good old Instagram) and is not widely practiced (or ever recommended) here in the UK. However, because, as I said, I'm always intrigued by other people's choices, I thought I'd include it. Burning is considered an alternative to cutting the umbilical cord, with some laying the cord itself over a "burn box" (whilst still attached at one end to the baby and at the other to the placenta) and use a candle to sever it in half. This, in theory, seals and sterilises each end of the cord at the point of burning, but is very much a spiritual preference as there seem to be no medical advantages to this method of severance, and some considerable risk factors. If you want to find out more about cord burning rather than cutting, there's a lot of information here.
Lotus Birth - Back to actual placentas. Some people choose not to sever the baby from their umbilical cord at all, and leave baby attached to the placenta until the dry umbilical detaches on it's own. The placenta is usually kept in a bag, dressed with herbs (to avoid any nasty smells) and will have to be transported about with the baby until it detaches. I can see how this would be somewhat inconvenient if you're hoping to be out and about with baby soon after birth, but many see it as the most natural way to end a baby's relationship with their placenta, and in many cultures, lotus birth is simply the norm.
Eating the Placenta - It is never advised that you eat somebody's else's placenta, however, some Mother's do opt to ingest their own after birth. There have been a number of suggested health benefits associated with doing so, including reduced risk of post partum anaemia (low iron count) and reduced risk of post natal depression. At the moment no clinical trials have proven any benefit to eating your own placenta after birth, but there's a lot of anecdotal support, and those who've chosen to do so, generally swear by it, and site advantages including increased breast milk supply, and quicker post partum healing. How you eat your placenta is largely up to you. Some cook it up much like you would a piece of steak or liver, but generally, its added to smoothies where it can be "disguised" amongst other ingredients. I found this video of a guy making a Bolognese with his daughter's placenta - if you're looking for ideas! There's also a recipe here for a possible placenta smoothie.
Placenta Encapsulation - If you struggle to stomach the idea of eating raw or cooked placenta, you can have your placenta dehydrated and encapsulated, providing you with small capsules that you can swallow as you would a vitamin or paracetamol, without any of the taste/texture associated with chowing down on lumps of meat. Those who do so usually claim to experience the same benefits as those who eat their placenta, but again, there is no scientific evidence at this time to say that placenta encapsulation is beneficial. Visit the Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network website here if you want to find someone who can encapsulate your placenta for you, here in the UK.
Placenta Printing - Some people choose to make pretty mind-blowing artwork with their placenta. Some just print with a fresh placenta (I've heard of placentas being thrown forcefully at a large canvas to get some form of abstract print) whilst other's are allowed to dry out and then painted to print. Because the placenta and cord sort of look like a tree, with many branching blood vessels, "Tree of Life" style prints are popular. Might freak guests out a bit but some of the prints are really cool.
Burying the Placenta - This is probably my favourite of all spiritual placenta "rituals" and something I'm umming and ahhing about at the moment. In many cultures, the burying of the placenta is common place, as it is seen as being so nutrient dense and life sustaining. Putting that energy back in to the ground, and fertilising the soil with the placenta does make sense to me on a spiritual level. Ordinarily, the placenta would be buried alongside the planting of either a flowering plant, or a fruit tree. Thus, each year, the plant or tree would bare flowers and fruit, sustained and nourished under the ground by the placenta which once sustained and nourished a baby. There's something very "complete" about this to me, but again, it wouldn't be for everyone!
Placenta and Umbilical Cord Keepsakes - Some people have their dried out placenta and umbilical cord turned into a special keepsake. There are businesses worldwide who'll offer to do all sorts of amazing stuff with your placenta or umbilical cord tissue, if it's something you can't bear to dispose of. As an example, check out this ring, made from a baby's umbilical cord!
Image courtesy of Beyond The Willow

Some people, of course, have no interest in doing anything at all with their placenta - in fact, having the hospital or homebirth midwifes dispose of the placenta and all afterbirth tissue is certainly the norm.
I like to remember, as with anything concerning pregnancy and childbirth, that we all have lots of options, options that we ourselves can pursue if we choose, and options taken up by others which we ought to respect.
I'd love to hear from anyone who's done anything "interesting" with their placenta (and equally from anyone who wouldn't!), and I'll be sure to let you know what I'll be doing with mine (not eating it though I'm afraid, there'll be no up and coming recipe post!)

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