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Western Perception of the Placenta, Lost and Remembered

''The placenta, a piece of waste after birth, an organ that filters blood and nourishes our babies, it has no value, people in our society feel it is gross, it is horrible to look at ... and to consider eating it?… well that’s even worse … ! ''

That is how many of us view it, and this was me too 20 and 15 years ago when I had my eldest two babies. It seems a common school of thought society on the whole has created over the past few hundred years.

We are so far removed from nature and sentience in so many ways...and being so far removed from birth and our natural instinct towards how we manage our placentas is possibly due to our lack of education and our lack of exposure to birth as children. I can feel myself opening a whole can of worms within my thoughts and feelings on this subject. So I will reel this back in....

However, all that said, our instinct towards what to do with our placentas is returning to our lands bit by bit.

In the two years I have been a doula, I have met so many women who are in tune with their bodies and nature, we are slowly waking up and realising that things are missing from our culture and for many of us it takes pregnancy and birth to see this.

Our connection to our pregnancies, births, and the role of placentas has been lost along with many spiritual practices, and indigenous traditions due to our busy modern lives and the way culture has changed over the centuries.

It makes me wonder of the impact this all really has on our children.

Many societies throughout history believe the placenta is not only a physical source of nutrients but houses part of the babies spirit too.

Some call it the forgotten chakra, written in Robin Lim's book. Placenta, the Forgotten Chakra, and I can well believe why.

The placenta is the organ that grows with the fetus within the uterus. It begins to function from 12 weeks gestation, once it has fully developed. It takes over hormone production, which control most of the changes within the pregnancy. It also provides the nutrients for the baby, and also separates the baby's blood from maternal blood. It is a truly remarkable organ in all that it does! At birth the placenta emerges after the baby is born, in what is called the third stage of labour.

Diagram of placenta. Image from Biology.com

To honour our placenta really is a special thing, it is a tradition so lost in our culture and it saddens me when I see so many thrown away in the sluice after birth. I know this is a woman's choice and I respect that choice. However many people are now seeing how much value and meaning the placenta holds and there are many around the world who still honour placenta traditions.

Japanese Placenta Burial

Many of our indigenous societies living around the world believe the placenta to be a part of the baby and linked by spirit, bury it to protect the child’s soul through life. It is often buried in native soil near to home or under a tree so the child will always have a sense of home and know how to get back by feeling their link.

Many placentas are buried with objects to ensure the baby will have specific skills and wishes their parents want for them to have all they need as they grow up. Or in more recent traditions since birth in hospital began and placentas are discarded of, in Turkey for example, some people will cut the umbilical cord and throw it to a school for the child to have knowledge, or to the sea to be safe at sea, or a work place to be a good business person. You get the intention of this tradition.

In more recent years still within England, fisherman would buy the amniotic membranes, with belief it would keep them safe at sea, especially if the baby was born en caul (born with membranes still intact).