The Placenta!

I think the placenta is one of the most amazing creations on the planet – it’s an unbelievable organ that nourishes and support your baby for the entire 9 months and allows nutrient uptake, waste elimination, and gas exchange.   It amazes me that this organ doesn’t exist within your body until you become pregnant at which point it starts to grow with your baby. Isn’t that cool?

Birthing the placenta was something I really hadn’t given much thought to before the birth of my baby, and even during my pregnancy I really didn’t think about it that much. I had always just assumed that it was fairly easy  and that it would pretty much just fall out – ok, bit of an understatement but with no hard surfaces I thought it was going to be ‘easy street’ after pushing a baby out and that it was going to feel like a wet jelly fish.

After the birth I was tired, sore, swollen and had completely lost touch with my nether region! My baby came out with a superman pose so his little hand was up by his head which left me with a couple of second degree tears. After all of that, I just wanted to lay down and rest and I wasn’t prepared to ‘work’ for it – my midwife had said “Max, you need to give me a push, just like when you were pushing for the baby’ – was she kidding? I was done. Finished.. and I was completely distracted by the beautiful little boy I was now holding in my arms.

I was totally exhausted, I had nothing left in the tank, I was shaking and tired but my midwife was on high alert to ensure that the placenta came away clean and whole without any complications or residue left inside the body. So.. unfortunately for me, there was no rest and I had to squat down again and push through my sore and aching body, push through the mental barriers I was putting up and deliver this incredible organ.  I didn’t expect to have to push so hard but I admit, with a couple of big pushes, it did just kind of fall out.

Once the placenta was below me, I was looking at my baby and his umbilical cord, which was attached to his placenta – suddenly I realized I was no longer part of this incredible loop and once the cord was cut, my baby would be on his own. We had talked a lot about our birth plan prior to the birth and I wanted to delay cutting the cord until it had stopped pulsing and here’s why:

It gives babies the oxygen they need immediately at birth and the iron they need for growth. They also get the red, white and stem cells they need for optimal health. Another thing I found out was that when the baby is born, in that moment, only 2/3rds of the baby’s blood is actually in the baby – the remaining 1/3rd is still in the umbilical cord and the placenta, so waiting until it stops pulsing ensures that the cord can actively pump the iron-rich, oxygen-rich, stem-cell-rich blood into the baby. [The WHO no longer recommend immediate cord clamping.]

There seemed to be a lot of talk about ‘cord blood banking’ leading up to the birth of my baby and I did look into this too. Cord blood banking is the collection and preservation of cord blood stem cells.  They can be stored indefinitely (if stored correctly below -150C) and then used in transplant medicine to treat many life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia and other cancers.

Basically, it can be seen as an insurance policy for your child ‘just in case’ something comes up in the future and provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the moment of birth to collect and save the stem cells from your baby’s umbilical cord blood for future use. In order to do this, the umbilical cord needs to be cut very quickly before it stops transferring everything into your baby.

We chose not to bank our baby’s cord blood as we wanted our baby to have all the blood, oxygen and nutrients in his body NOW as we felt this would give him a stronger start in life. It’s a very personal decision and each family needs to decide what is best for them.

Anyway, back to the placenta!  I was amazed at the intricacy of the placenta, it’s truly an incredible organ and far bigger than I thought it was going to be.  It had a complex web of arteries and veins and appeared to be in a state of organized chaos. It was bright red and rich looking, healthy and strong.

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My healthy placenta

So… after your baby is born, what do you do with it?

There is still so much debate about what to do with it; some throw it out, some plant it under a special tree in the garden and others eat it!  Despite attracting some controversy, there are some great reasons why eating it is likely the way to go!

Placentophagy is the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after childbirth and with good reason – the placenta contains high levels of prostaglandin, which stimulates the retraction (return to the former size) of the uterus. It also contains small amounts of oxytocin, which eases birth stress and causes the muscles around the mammary cells to contract and eject milk.

So – given that we too are mammals – would you eat your placenta?

Although somewhat unproven, it is generally accepted that eating your placenta will also reduce the risk of post-natal depression due to its high levels of vitamins and minerals, particularly B6, which can help to fight depression.

I googled ‘eating your placenta’ before I had my baby and was inundated with strange recipes that did everything but excite me about eating it. You can fry it, slow cook it or eat it raw like a steak. I have to say that none of these options were particularly appealing.

Given that I had a home birth it was easy to ensure that no one was going to come in and throw mine away by accident so I did have to make those decisions before the birth about what I wanted to do and given that I have followed the natural and what I consider a fairly primal path the whole way through, I was keen to give eating it a go.

My midwife was excellent and cut a portion of my placenta up into 60 tiny tablet size pieces that were glad-wrapped up and put in my freezer so that I could eat 2 each day for 30 days after the birth of my baby.

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When it’s a tiny piece of frozen meat the size of a panadol tablet, it’s easy to stomach and gulp down with a sip of water. When it’s that easy, why would you want to miss out on all of those nutrients?

placenta pieces

My midwife has said that on the days where I feel tired or emotional or challenged in any way, have another piece of placenta – there is no risk of overdosing on placenta!

So…. 3 weeks later and I am feeling pretty good. I admit that I don”t think eating your placenta can help you with the sleep deprivation but I think it does help in balancing hormones and combatting depression. I don’t know how I would have felt if I didn’t take it but I certainly didn’t feel any negative effects. So.. all in all, I would recommend doing as nature had intended.  Go for it!!!

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