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Photo by @lindseymeehleis

CNM Anne Margolis talks about the placenta - what its, what it does, and what you can do with it after birth. Subscribe to Ask the Midwife Newsletter:

The placenta is the essential organ that forms during the womb in pregnancy and attaches to the baby via the umbilical cord. It belongs to the baby. It is the only organ essential for fetal survival, but is not needed by the baby post birth, after baby receives the cord blood (1/3 of the baby’s blood supply that backed up into the placenta during birth). It is the organ that gives baby life; it provides oxygen and nutrients, and also filters waste products. It makes hormones that support the pregnancy, help baby grow and develop, and provides protection against bacteria and infection. Toward the end of pregnancy, the placenta passes antibodies from you to the baby, which can provide immunity for up to three months after birth.

But what happens to the placenta after pregnancy is over? Many people simply allow the placenta to go to medical waste in the hospital or want it to be discarded after a home birth.

However, for those who want to keep or use the placenta, there are several options out there.

Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

Photo by @senhoritasfotografia

Photo by @lindseymeehleis

Photo by @lindseymeehleis


Placentophagia is the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after childbirth. Most mammals, left to birth undisturbed in nature, will consume the placenta, even herbivores. It is theorized that this is done instinctually, because the placenta contains high levels of prostaglandin, which stimulates the uterus to shrink back to its normal size. It also contains small amounts of oxytocin, which can ease emotions after the birth, as well as facilitate breastfeeding.

In humans, placenta ingestion is practiced most often in Chinese medicine, and the tradition is centuries old. Most often, it is dried, steamed, ground, and encapsulated, although some eat it raw in a smoothie or cooked into other foods. It can also be made into a tincture.

There have only been a few scientific studies on the benefits of placenta encapsulation, and they have not conclusively supported or dispelled the proposed benefits. Most information about placenta encapsulation is anecdotal.

In addition to helping the uterus shrink and increasing milk production, ingesting the placenta is said to restore iron levels in the blood, increase levels of stress-reducing hormones, and decrease the incidence of postpartum depression.

If you are interested in encapsulating your placenta, you can look for a certified encapsulation specialist in your area. Certified specialists will have completed encapsulation training. Be sure to research the techniques used to make sure safety and hygiene standards are upheld. More and more childbirth professionals are offering this service, and Dr. Aviva Romm, in her book “Natural Health After Birth” has helpful instructions how to do this yourself.

Art by @phatal_love

Art by @phatal_love

Lotus Birth

Lotus birth takes delayed cord clamping up a level. It is the practice of leaving the umbilical cord attached to the baby after birth until it naturally separates, which can take approximately 3 to 10 days days. It is not as essential as refraining from immediate clamping of the umbilical cord at birth, but does have some perks.

In addition to the benefits from delayed optimal cord clamping, of allowing baby to get back essential blood volume, oxygen, nutrients and stem cells for optimal transition to and long term survival earth side, lotus birth encourages baby and mom to stay in extremely close contact, and discourages others from unnecessarily moving the baby. It also encourages mom to stay still and quiet in the days following the birth. It honors the third stage of labor, and allows a more gentle transition from fetus within the womb, to a baby outside in the world.

The placenta does require some extra care for a lotus birth. It should be gently rinsed with water and patted dry, then placed in a sieve or colander for 24 hours to drain. Then, it should be wrapped in an absorbent material, such as a clean dishtowel or cloth diaper, and placed in a placenta bag. There are many different crafty options for these that can be purchased on The wrapping should be changed every day.

Alternatively, the placenta can be placed in a shallow bowl filled with sea salt, and sprinkled with sea salt daily to preserve it.

Ceremonial Burial

Many cultures honor the placenta by burying it. Some believe this will give the child a strong connection with the land. Others bury the placenta under a new tree, as a symbol for the placenta acting like the “tree of life” for the baby and believing the organ will bring richness to the soil to help the tree grow. The tree can then be looked upon in remembrance of all the placenta accomplished and the life of the child it nourished.

You can also make a placenta print keep sake. Take the fresh placenta and press  the side with all the blood vessels branching out like a tree, against a white canvas or art paper. This can then be framed when dried, or placed in a scrap book - along with a dried part of the umbilical cord shaped in a heart or spelling out LOVE.

To read more about placental traditions, visit the Placenta Wisdom blog here:


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