The placenta, held sacred in traditional medicine, has come to have a routinely different existence in the realm of 'modern medicine' and healthcare in the industrialized world. What exactly is the placenta? What are its functions? How can we walk a conscious path to recognizing its importance in our physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural health?
The placenta is an organ that grows within the womb during pregnancy. It attaches to the growing fetus via the umbilical cord and supplies oxygen and nutrients to the unborn babe. The placenta functions with two components: the maternal placenta, which develops from the wall of the uterine lining, and the fetal placenta, which develops from the same tissue that forms the fetus. As well as maintaining nourishment of the unborn child, the placenta is also responsible for carrying away waste products such as carbon dioxide. In the later stages of pregnancy it is responsible for supplying antibodies and building immune system function.
In active labor of a natural birth the baby descends the birth canal. After the baby has completely passed through, likely head first (if the mama and babe are left to their own time), the placenta remains within the womb. As the infant latches to the mother's breast for the first time, hormonal signals are sent to the uterus to begin to contract. These contractions help the uterus to expel the placenta, often referred to as the 'afterbirth.'
The placenta is vital and rich of a hormonal pattern that is uniquely specific to the new mother and child. These specific hormones cannot be obtained anywhere else but from the bodily intelligence that created them! Not only is the placenta a reserve of hormones but it is also a rich source of iron and other minerals. The placenta is invaluable to the healing and nourishment during the mother's postpartum experience. Mother's who have incorporated the placenta into their postpartum healing rarely choose to go without for subsequent births.
After childbirth it is possible that you will feel the 'baby blues.' You may feel extreme fatigue, mood swings, and imbalance. You may feel low energy, low self-esteem, and 'weepy.' This is normal. You are processing an intense event no matter what the circumstance of birth. During pregnancy the placenta takes over much of your hormonal regulation. Your body is seeking homeostasis, receiving messages, and adjusting to the non-pregnant state. The hypothalamus, located just above the thalamus and brain stem, must resume its job regulating your endocrine system.
According to the Placenta Benefits website, your child's placenta, is believed to...
-contain your own natural hormones
-be perfectly made for you
-balance your system
-replenish depleted iron
-give you more energy
-lessen bleeding postnatally
-been shown to increase milk production
-help you have a happier postpartum period
-hasten return of uterus to pre-pregnancy state
-be helpful during menopause
Childbirth is a Rite-of-Passage that can take months and even years to assimilate. Pam England, author of The Labyrinth of Birth, and creator of Birthing From Within (childbirth education & doula training) says, "After reaching the center of your 'laborinth,' after giving birth, your journey is not yet over. Just as you were called to begin your initiation, when it is time, you are called to return 'home' again. And thus begins your passage by completing the various emotional and social tasks of postpartum."
You can ease the return passage 'home' to balance using the placenta as your medicine. What are the options of ingestion and which is right for you? There are a number of ways to honor and ingest the placenta.
It can be consumed raw. It can be dehydrated raw for encapsulation or it can be prepared and encapsulated using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles. The placenta's benefits can also be preserved in tincture form. Let's explore these options to see what resonates with you!
Raw Encapsulation- In the raw encapsulation method, the placenta is not steamed before dehydration. This method follows the general 'raw foods' rule that believes that food/medicine heated above 118 degrees F will lose vital nutrients and enzymes.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Encapsulation- The TCM method is the most commonly used method of preparation and includes the process of steaming the placenta with warming herbs. The theory behind the use of steaming and warming herbs is that, according to TCM, the process of labor and birth is considered to be a very yin, or cold, experience. The open space left in the abdominal center is considered yin as well and is best remedied by warmth.
Placenta Tincture- In addition to encapsulation, a piece of the placenta can be reserved for tincturing. The benefit to having a placenta tincture handy is that it will be available for use long after the placenta capsules are gone. A placenta tincture can even be saved until menopause and for use during other hormonal changes.
Raw Consumption (without encapsulation)- Some women chose to eat their child's placenta raw, directly following birth, in a variety of ways. One way is to cut it into small freezable cubes and place a piece directly under the tongue for absorption as needed. My own personal experience consisted of 3 days of this method. I covered each piece in honey and allowed it to dissolve under my tongue. The remainder of the placenta was frozen and saved for a tree planting ceremony in our son's honor.
There are many other incredible ways that women are honoring the sacred placenta and it's incredible life-giving properties.