American comedian Christopher Titus said, “When you’re born, you’re pure. Unspoiled and trusting. Some say it’s the only time we’re perfect. You’re also born covered in blood and placenta. No one gets nostalgic about that.”
It seems that Mr. Titus has not met some of the people on our list.
The placenta is the organ that connects the mother’s body to her child. It’s an efficient delivery and filtration system that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. It channels nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby and filters out the baby’s waste products. When the baby is born, the placenta naturally emerges with the newborn through the mother’s vagina or is surgically removed during a C-section.
Its job is done, and the placenta (with the rest of the afterbirth) is disposed of as medical waste. Usually, that is. An increasing number of people are finding that they don’t want to get rid of their placenta and are finding uses for it.
In Latin, a placenta was a flat cake. The term was derived from the Greek word “plakos,” used to describe anything flat. This is pretty appropriate as the placenta is a flattened organ. So let’s consider some of the weird things women have done with their placentas.
Related: 10 Facts On The History Of Breastfeeding And Baby Food
10 Cook and Serve
Researchers have found no solid evidence that cooking and eating the placenta was a regular practice in any human culture. However, some cultures undoubtedly would eat it under certain circumstances—famine comes to mind. Humans might not tend to go all in for placenta-based dishes, but we are an exception in the animal kingdom.
Most mammals, including herbivores, will eat their placenta immediately after giving birth. Experts believe this is a survival mechanism as the mother hides evidence of the birth so that the blood doesn’t attract predators. Curiously, it seems that camels don’t do it. Perhaps they don’t care about predators.
The modern fashion of eating placentas seems to have originated in the United States in the 1970s and was popularized by a few celebrities who trumpeted its benefits in fighting post-natal depression and fatigue. But nutritionists warn us that the human placenta can contain bacteria and viruses and is potentially harmful.
Placentophagy is the technical word for eating the placenta; whether placentophagy is a form of cannibalism is a matter of debate. Apparently, it has a strong taste similar to beef or liver. Try using it in lasagna instead of your usual meat. In fact, the word “placenta” does sound like an Italian dish.
9 Planted Placenta
Since the placenta is high in protein, iron, and other nutrients, it makes an excellent fertilizer for plants.
Dig a hole in your garden, and place the placenta inside it (just plant it deep, so your dog doesn’t dig it up). Then plant a tree in the hole and pack the soil around it. You can watch your tree grow as your baby grows. This sounds like a nice, romantic idea and should be perfectly safe in most circumstances.
But keep an eye on your plant—you don’t want to create a tree with a taste for human blood. You may want to watch or read The Day of the Triffids or The Little Shop of Horrors before you make your final decision.
8 Leave It Alone
Some new mothers are choosing to do nothing at all with the placenta. They don’t cut the baby’s umbilical cord but leave it to separate naturally from their infant. This will happen in three to ten days. This process if referred to as a lotus birth.
Birth is a traumatic experience for a baby. Leaving the umbilical cord and placenta in place is supposed to bridge the gap between the womb and the real world and help the baby to make the transition more smoothly. There is nothing wrong with this, but be careful that your infant doesn’t strangle itself on the umbilical cord. And, if you are thinking of eating your placenta after, it won’t be as fresh as it should be.
Most mammals will sever the umbilical cord immediately after birth. One exception among land mammals is the camel. (What is it about camels?)
7 Art for Art’s Sake
Nobody has witnessed a camel turning her placenta into a work of art, but some human mothers prefer this option. Many believe the placenta resembles the tree of life (something to do with the veins running through it). It doesn’t really resemble anything other than what it is, but people have fertile imaginations.
Some proud new parents will thoroughly wash the organ, then take a print of it. To do this:
- Lay your placenta (fresh, not frozen) on a tray.
- Stain it with acid-free ink.
- Bring a sheet of acid-free paper to your placenta.
- Gently press the paper down.
You can frame your print. Or maybe make copies and send them to your friends. But if you’re thinking of having your placenta for dinner, it would be better to use food coloring instead of ink.
6 Popping Pills
If you don’t fancy frying your placenta and serving it up for dinner, there is another (more palatable) way of consuming it. You can have it put into capsules and swallow one with your tea or coffee.
The organ is cleaned, steamed, cooked, dried, ground, and popped into capsules. Doing this supposedly preserves the nutrients in the placenta. Unlike eating placenta, drying it to use as a medicinal supplement has a long tradition. The Chinese have used dried placenta in traditional medicine for countless years.
Various companies offer this capsule service. If you are interested, you can easily find one on the web. Just know that health authorities advise potential users that bacteria and viruses may also remain active.
5 Give It Away
The weird thing about this option is that it’s not more widespread. The umbilical cord and placenta are rich in stem cells. Specialists can use these to save lives and to help with research into health conditions.
Most parents don’t give the placenta and cord much thought after birth. Not surprisingly, they’re usually more focused on their new bundle of joy. The hospital will usually dispose of the afterbirth as medical waste. But if you’re about to give birth, check to see if your hospital offers the possibility of saving and donating the placenta for the good of others.
4 Preserve It
There are companies out there that will turn your placenta into pieces of jewelry or use it to make a picture frame. Some people like to keep a souvenir of their baby’s birth, and a bangle or a photo frame are popular choices. Of course, you could just preserve the entire thing and use it as a centerpiece on your dining table.
You’d think the baby itself would be enough of a reminder of what the mother went through, but apparently, there are people who want something more. Alex Green is a designer with a fertile imagination. She took her placenta and made a teddy bear out of it. If you want to follow her lead, the instructions are:
- Cut your placenta in half.
- Rub sea salt into it.
- Allow it to dry thoroughly.
- Treat it with a mixture of egg yolk and tannin. This will make it soft and easy to work with.
- Make it look a little like a teddy bear.
- Stuff it and sew it up.
The result may or may not look like a teddy bear, but it’s certainly an interesting idea and will give you something to do during the endless hours of free time that every new parent has (just kidding).
3 Skin Care Potions
On the web, you can easily find instructions to make skin creams. They are cheaper and just as good as most commercial brands. But have you thought about adding your own dried and powdered placenta to your cream to make it truly personal? Skin cream made from your own body.
Users praise the properties of placenta cream, saying that it works wonders on stretch marks and cracked nipples and keeps your skin looking fresh and young. However, there is no solid evidence that the placenta brings any of these additional benefits.
But it would make for an interesting birthday gift.
2 Burying Placenta
If you decide to bury your placenta, you will be following a long tradition. Many peoples and cultures have believed, and still believe, that the placenta is intimately related to the child and the earth itself. In some cultures, people believe that the placenta continues to influence the child, so it should be treated with deference.
In New Zealand, the Maoris use the same word for placenta as they do for the earth—the mother of all. The placenta is treated with reverence and buried in a propitious spot. A Turkish parent might bury the placenta on the grounds of a mosque, hoping that the child will grow up devout.
There are many more examples of reverence for the placenta. You might like to consider burying yours in a favorite spot and returning it to Mother Nature.
1 Sell Your Placenta
If your thoughts move more toward the practical rather than the spiritual, you might like to consider selling your placenta and other afterbirth products. There is a market for them. However, know that this option comes with some legal issues since it’s illegal to sell body parts.
Doctor Christopher Centeno, from Boulder, Colorado, researched the value of afterbirth for a blog. In his article, he estimated that the market price of afterbirth was an incredible half a million dollars per birth. If you can find a buyer, this sum would make an enormous contribution to your baby’s college tuition fund. However, you might want to stick with donating it to keep on the right side of the law.