Placenta for lunch
Burned, buried or served as soup... after the birth, what happens to the afterbirth?
You’ve felt the pain, you’ve held the baby, and you’re ready for a long rest. But have you thought about the placenta and what will be done with it? In most Western hospitals, it is either incinerated as medical waste or sold to laboratories.
But in some cultures it is revered for its symbolism of life, spirit and individuality and it is often buried outside. Some people even promote cooking and eating it as a celebration of birth and a source of rich nutrients.
Placenta around the world
In Islam the placenta is buried because it is believed that "from the (earth) did We Create you, and into it Shall We return you” (The Noble Quran, 20:55).
Judaism also believes in burying the placenta.
The Xhosa people bury the placenta in the kraal as the belief is that it would bring more fertility to the tribe.
The Sotho people traditionally bury the placenta in the area for protection. Witchdoctors are said to steal the placenta and use it to curse the family, so it needs to be buried. They also bury the umbilical cord when it falls off, in their yards so that witches don't get hold of it.
The Ibo of Nigeria and Ghana treat the placenta as the dead twin of the live child and give it full burial rites. Often a tree is planted over it.
The Navajo Indians have a custom where they bury a child's placenta within the sacred Four Corners of the tribe's reservation as a binder to ancestral land and people.
The Maoris of New Zealand have a similar tradition of burying the placenta in native soil. Interestingly their word for land and placenta are the same: whenua
Even Hollywood is jumping on the bandwagon of burying the placenta. Actor Matthew McConaughey had this to say: “When I was in Australia, they had a placenta tree that was on the river and all the placentas of all that tribe ... went under that one tree and it was this huge behemoth of just health and strength.”
The Hindu Dharma of Bali believe that only the husband and the midwife or doctor are allowed to hold the placenta. It is washed and then buried on the right side of the northern pavilion if it’s a boy and on the left if it’s a girl. With it are buried a comb, a dance fan, a pen, a book or whatever the family wishes the child will grow up to enjoy.
The Buddhists also have an interesting ceremony. The placenta is treated with salt to preserve it, and is placed in a special earthenware jar. On a day deemed auspicious for burying this clay pot, a site suitable is prepared and the placenta is buried. This is not as simple as just plopping it in the backyard. There are strict rules that govern the precise location in which the container must lie.
Eating the placenta
The Chinese view the placenta as a life-giving force. They believe a nursing mother should boil the placenta, make a broth, then drink it to improve her milk.
Not an altogether new phenomenon but one that’s recently been brought up in the media is the production of placenta pills. This is where a Placenta Professional will come to your house and cook, prepare and dry out the placenta to be made into capsules for ingestion.
It is believed that because it contains your own hormones, it will help with postpartum depression. It is said to replenish depleted iron levels that is a result of so much blood loss during pregnancy. It is also believed to increase milk production and can even be helpful during menopause.
Then there are the people who eat it either raw or cooked and sometimes with a dash of crab or shrimp seasoning. All over the internet there are websites with recipes for frying, sautéing and boiling the placenta to be used in recipes such as placenta lasagne, placenta cocktail and placenta stew.
What did you do with your children’s placentas?