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The Placenta, Tree of Life!

If you've been following me on social media, it's no surprise that I regard the placenta as a sacred and incredible part of the birthing process! No matter how you choose to utilize or dispose of your placenta, I encourage you to look at it after birth (notice the vessel formations creating the tree of life; see the sack that housed your baby safely in your womb!). Consider all your options before regarding it as "medical waste" to be thrown away...

Isn't it so amazing? The human placenta acts as a lifeline between mother and the developing fetus. It provides nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, removes waste products, produces hormones that support pregnancy, and even protects against infections. Additionally, the placenta is one of the few organs in the body that is capable of new blood vessel formation, which allows it to adapt to the changing needs of the growing fetus throughout pregnancy.

The placenta plays a crucial role in nutrient exchange between the mother and fetus. It is able to selectively transport nutrients such as glucose, amino acids, and lipids to the fetus, while filtering out harmful substances and toxins. The placenta can also produce hormones that help regulate fetal growth and development, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and human placental lactogen (hPL). Overall, the placenta is an amazing and complex organ that plays a vital role in supporting fetal development and pregnancy.

Some birthing women today choose to have their placenta encapsulated to consume post-partum, while others add it to smoothies or cook it. Encapsulating the placenta involves inspecting, cleaning, dehydrating, powdering, and filling capsules with the powder. Many women find this a more palatable way to consume their placenta. If you don't want to participate in Placentophagia (consuming your placenta), there are other ways to honor this incredible organ that gave life to your baby!

1. You can plant it, along with a tree or bush, to signify the end of pregnancy and the journey into motherhood and new life for your baby. Many cultures around the world have significant rituals around the placenta. Find a ritual or ceremony that speaks to you or come up with your own for your planting. I, for one, think we are lacking in ceremony, particularly around pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Use this opportunity to connect to the natural world and your spiritual side! (psst, you can choose to dehydrate your umbilical cord and plant that in ceremony, even if you're doing encapsulation or something else with your placenta...)

2. You can Donate it! Did you know the human placenta is now being used in skin grafting? You can donate it for this purpose (2nd time around of helping a life!) Here is Western Colorado, placentas are being used to train search and rescue dogs (think finding people buried in an avalanche). How cool is that?! You can google to find different organizations that will utilize human placentas for this purpose.

3. You can make art with it! Make a placenta print (or have your encapsulator do it.. this comes included with my basic placenta package). There are many different options here. If you're consuming it, you can utilize a plant-based food dye to "paint" the placenta and then take a print on watercolor paper. It makes for a fun, unique keepsake!

Regardless of how you choose to utilize and honor your placenta, you should make a plan prior to your birth. I often have my clients think about it over the course of their pregnancy, discuss it, and then include the plan for their placenta in their "Birth Plan" or, as I like to call it, "Birth Preferences." With a home birth and usually with birth centers, it's easy to keep your placenta (midwives see this more often than not). If you're birthing in a hospital-setting, it is imperative to discuss this with your provider ahead of time. You may also need to complete paperwork, as customary with hospital protocols. But, bottom line, it is YOURS and not the possession of the hospital. Know that hospitals typically take a vial of cord blood to run testing, such as identifying baby's blood type (all standard protocol but they should still be asking for your permission/informed consent prior to running those labs). In the rare case that your provider wants to run pathology on the placenta itself, you can request they take a small piece (that's all they actually use to run labs) and you keep the rest. Having a Doula or a Partner that can advocate for you is important (birth takes so much out of you and its an incredibly vulnerable time. It can be helpful to have someone who intimately knows you and your preferences, especially in a hospital-setting where standard protocol is followed).

Knowing your options and having the open space to think about how you want to utilize or honor your placenta is so important. I'm happy to see the growing trend of birthing women taking this into consideration and I'm thrilled to support them on this journey of discovery and awe of the Tree of Life!

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