The Placenta: A Little Look at the Humble Giver

It is said that you birth twice. First the baby. Then the placenta.

What is the placenta and what does it do?

In some cultures, the placenta is called the baby’s twin. One of my teachers referred to the placenta as the baby’s advocate. I call it the guardian angel. The more I learn about its forming, function and releasing, the more amazed I am… at life!

Truly amazing… Let’s take a quick look. Your baby has this incredible life-support system going on, composed of the placenta, the umbilical cord, and the amniotic sac. The umbilical cord is the life line, and the amniotic sac, which is filled with amniotic fluid, is the safe vessel which serves as your baby’s sacred space within you.

The placenta, which grows at the site of implantation from the beginning of your pregnancy on, is a round, somewhat flat organ attached to the inside of your uterus and is connected to the fetus by that umbilical cord. Seemingly on its own, the placenta works to create and maintain homeostasis for your baby. The amazing placenta creates its own hormones to support growth and life and a healthy balance, and serves as the vital connection, the bridge, the sacred trading post, if you will, between your body and your baby, via this continually moving blood supply. The placenta has two sides – the maternal and the fetal. On the maternal side, your blood pulses and creates small pools, fresh with oxygen, nutrients and nourishment. On the placental side, small blood vessels carrying the fetal blood spread through, reach out and absorb. With a barrier carefully protecting and separating the fetal and maternal bloods, nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s blood are still able to transfer to the fetal blood, while waste products are transferred from the fetal blood to the maternal blood, without the two blood supplies mixing. Pretty amazing, yes?

How do you birth it?

When your baby is born, more than likely the umbilical cord will remain intact and continue the connection with the placenta, allowing your baby a secure adjustment to the completely new environment, feelings and use of lungs. The cord, if allowed to remain intact, pulses for several minutes following the first breath. As the baby’s lungs begin to take in air, seemingly miraculously (as is so much about birth and our bodies) the placenta “knows” it is no longer needed, and naturally detaches from the uterus wall where it was firmly planted for the past nine months. It will descend and birth naturally and normally within about fifteen minutes to an hour after birth.

The placenta is birthed from the uterus in a process called the after-birth or third stage of labor. After the baby is born and begins breathing air, the placenta no longer is needed, and usually within about ten or fifteen minutes, it begins naturally detaching from the walls of the uterus and descending down the birth canal. With a half hour or so, you will probably resume minor contractions which gently push this soft organ and the membranes out.  This tends to be a painless and almost relief-feeling process as the placenta is expelled and your body is now allowed to resume healing.

What happens after you birth it?

You have choices. During the days of birth being considered a controlled medical procedure, the cord was cut immediately after the birth of the baby, and the placenta encouraged (manually and chemically) to be expelled quickly. But if you think about it, that’s short changing your baby. That’s cutting off the flow of necessary nutrients that have been proven to be beneficially to the adjustment to the world outside of the uterus. This may be considered rushing the natural process, and manipulating the healthy birthing process.

Today, returning to the respect of normal and natural birthing, and honoring the process to unfold without disturbance and intervention, immediate cord clamping and placenta separation is no longer recommended practice. What then can you expect? Likewise, what can you choose?

So then what?

Once again, you have choices. Please consider the options, and choose that which intuitively feels healthy and honorable. If you are preparing birthing plans and have hired support for your birth, you may wish to include your preference for the third stage of labor in your birthing plans.

You may request waiting for a certain time or event before cutting the cord, for example, fifteen minutes after the baby is born, or after pulsing has visually ceased, or after the placenta is born. Does your partner or another beloved want the honor of “cutting the cord?” Do you? A beautiful practice to consider is the lotus birth, where the cord is not cut at all; the placenta is honored and retained close to the mother and baby, and naturally separates after a few days.

Whenever and however you choose to separate your baby from its placenta, you may wish to honor the separation, and the created organ that served your baby humbly for the last nine months. There are many ways to do this. Most can be done shortly after birth. Or put the placenta safely aside (say, in a big ziplock in the freezer) and done as a completion ceremony at a later date.

Some beautiful ways to honor the placenta include:

  • Placenta readings. Reading the wisdom within, seeing what the tree of life reveals. One of my teachers at The Matrona first told me about this, and I can’t wait to learn more.
  • Placenta prints. Using the magnificent tree of life pattern from the fetal side as your stencil, capturing the beauty on paper. Bringing birth art beyond!
  • Placenta encapsulation. A centuries old practice of dehydrating, grounding and placing the powder in capsules to be ingested for nutritional benefits for healing mother now, and long term remedies for your growing baby later.
  • Eating the placenta. Many animals may eat the afterbirth. Some say this is the best medicine for respecting the birth, re-energizing the mother, and preventing post partum depression.
  • Planting the placenta. Plant a tree above it. Or build a home.

What other ways have you heard or read about to honor the separation and this beautiful, humble supportive organ?  What feels right for you? Please consider and make your own plans, and honor this guardian angel that silently served to support you in bringing this baby to life.