Updated: Jan 19
The placenta is one of the most fascinating and exquisite parts of God's design for life! It is the only major organ routinely created in full when needed and then discarded by the body once it is not. It's technically the baby's organ as it grows with and for the baby and consists of the baby's DNA. However, the mother is the one growing it and one side of it is saturated in maternal blood so it can most definitely be considered hers, too! That blood is used by the placenta to provide the baby with nutrients, oxygen, and everything needed for development. The placenta is also responsible for waste removal, endocrine and immune support, and is full of vital stem cells. Growing from nothing to about the size of a dinner plate in about 8 months, it is a complex physiological system that functions as several organs at once for the unborn baby and is often called the "tree of life". Just a peek at one will tell you why!
A few minutes to an hour or so after your baby is born, you will also birth your placenta and only then is the birth technically "complete". Some women may need to push to get the placenta out while others may have it slide out pretty easily. With a cesarean birth, the surgeon will remove it by hand. What happens to it afterward? Well, you have decisions to make!
Options for your placenta:
Placenta "tour": Ask your provider to show you the placenta (or do it yourself). It's wild to see the place your baby has been living and how intricately your body took care of your little one! One side you will see the baby's amniotic sac attached and what your baby has been snuggled up against and living from for months. On the other side, the "meatier" side, you'll see where it was attached to the mother's womb.
Burial: Many women choose to bury their placenta, sometimes planting a tree or another plant over it, to honor the body and the work it has done. Catholic tradition gives preference for burial when it comes to the body and even amputated limbs so this option resonates with that and with the belief in the dignity of the body. Most people simply use their yard, though other special places could certainly be an option.
Consuming the placenta by the mother has become more popular the last two decades. This option is premised on the fact that most every other female mammal consumes their placenta immediately after birth. It is thought to help replenish iron, regulate hormones, control postpartum bleeding (even helping with hemorrhage if used immediately), ward off postpartum depression and anxiety, and boost milk supply. Does it help? Well, we don't really know. It hasn't been studied vigorously but this option does have lots of anecdotal support. This article is a pretty fascinating and scholarly read on the topic, though.
I've been asked whether there is a Catholic position on this and as far as I can tell, this has never been specifically addressed by the Magisterium. Since the intent in consumption is to use the placenta for optimizing health and restore the woman to her full natural function, it can be considered and morally permissible.
In the case of a uterine or placental infection (almost always signs of which would be evident during labor), it's not recommended to consume the placenta.
There are several ways that the placenta can be consumed:
Encapsulation: In encapsulation, the placenta is dehydrated and put into pills to be taken for managing postpartum and/or menopause symptoms. This can be done by a hired professional or yourself. There's a great tutorial here. If hiring someone, they will often pick it up from the hospital or your home for processing and return the pills a few days later and usually runs two to three hundred dollars. This option for consumption is a lot more palatable for some women and the pills last for years, especially if stored in the freezer.
Tincture: A very small piece of placenta is placed into a strong alcohol solution and the tincture is taken orally. This is very simple to do and used as a postpartum or menopause supplement. Because of the alcohol, there is no expiration and the tincture can be replenished easily. This can also be made from placenta pills.
Consumed raw/frozen/cooked postpartum: Some mothers choose to eat small pieces raw (about the size of a quarter), swallowing them with a drink as one would a pill. It can also be mixed raw or frozen into a smoothie and consumed that way. There are even ways and recipes to cook it that can be found through an internet search!
Placenta prints: Some women make a "print" of their placenta before deciding what to ultimately do with it, using it like a stamp on a big piece of paper to then dry and save. It's obviously recommended to only use the blood for printing and not add paints if it will be consumed after.
Lotus birth: An option that isn't as well known is keeping the baby attached to his or her placenta via the umbilical cord until it naturally comes apart a few days later. This is commonly called a "lotus birth." It's necessary to wrap the placenta and it can be cumbersome managing both baby and the bowl that the placenta is staying in but some families find it really meaningful and important to them to do it this way. A good article about it can be found here.
Donation: Placentas can be donated to local organizations for research or canine training
Allow the hospital/birth center to dispose of it: Depending on the facility, it will be incinerated or in some cases, sold or donated to companies to use for products or research. Most women do this just by default since no one actually asks what they would like done! But there are certainly ethical considerations to selling or donating it to companies that may or may not be using the placenta for immoral reasons or them simply profiting off your body by using it for cosmetics or beauty products. If you don't care to keep your placenta, it would be wise to find out for sure what the hospital will do with it.
Your placenta should never be discarded without your permission. Offering options is definitely not routine at most hospitals so you will likely have to make your wishes clearly known if you would like to keep it.
If unsure of what you want to do, you can also keep it in the freezer until you do make a decision.
Whatever you decide to do, it's important to know your options ahead of time, making a choice you feel comfortable with rather than just giving that decision away.