“And would you like the placenta with that?”
This is what new-mothers might be hearing today in Oregon, where it’s officially become legal for parents to leave the hospital with their child’s placenta. Under previous laws, placentas were labeled “hazardous medical waste” and destroyed on the premises, unless parents had a religious or cultural reason that required they take it home. Now, anyone can walk out of an Oregon hospital with both a child and the placenta. And no, you don’t need an extra carseat for it.
We took Felix’s placenta home with us after he was delivered in a hospital here in New York City. The midwife showed us the “tree of life” — how the veins on one side of the placenta branch out from the trunk-like umbilical cord in an unmistakable tree shape. It’s a fitting metaphor for the organ too, which works as a mediator between the blood of the mother and the fetus, moving waste from fetus to mother, and nutrients the other way, without the bloodstreams mingling.
After the, uh, bloody show, the midwife wrapped the placenta in bio-hazard bags and then handed it off to me when no one was around. In a move MacGyver would’ve approved of, I stashed it in a pillowcase, which I then secured in a freezer pack. Once home, we put the crimson little package in the freezer. Three months later, we celebrated Placenta Day: burying the thing in the backyard and plopping a Fothergilla shrub on top, which Felix now calls “his plant.” It’s doing great!
We were part of a growing trend of people who want their afterbirth after the birth. What for, you may ask, besides burying in the backyard? Oh, but do you really want to know? Click on to find out what people are doing with their placentas these days.
The Amazing Placenta! 1 of 8
Alright, so you take it home with you. Now what? Click on to learn more...
Bury It 2 of 8
In Samoan and Hawaiian traditions, the placenta is buried in the ground and a tree planted atop it. Neither my wife nor I have any connections to these cultures, we just liked the idea that this organ which her body grew — I mean, how amazing is that? — wouldn't be incinerated with who knows what at the hospital. The plant and the burial is a way of honoring the work that her body did, and it adds another personal touch to the land, which is the same backyard which my wife played in as a child.
Photo of my son standing where his placenta is buried.
Eat It! Part 1 3 of 8
In the wild, most mammals eat their placentas. There's no historical evidence that humans ever did; the practice seems to be a largely recent one, starting in the counter-cultural 70's. Because of the placenta's role as the guardian between two bloodstreams, it's packed with nutrients and iron (and also pregnancy hormones), which some believe help mothers recover after pregnancy, and stave off postpartum depression. (Apparently Kim Kardashian thought it also would help her look younger.)
How do you prepare placenta? On a BBC show called TV Dinners, British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (pictured above) fried a new mother's placenta with shallots and garlic, and pureed it into pate which he served on a lovely focaccia bread for 20 of the woman's relatives and friends. Sounds good, right? Only the mom and dad ate some, and the BBC fined the chef for being "offensive to the public" after viewers complained it was cannibalism.
What do you pair with placenta pate? I won't even go into the recipes for placenta cocktails I discovered. Ick.
Eat It! Part 2 4 of 8
The most common way of eating placenta is to steam cook or dehydrate it, and then grind it up into powder which is packed into pills. Mad Men actress January Jones garnered a lot of publicity for this in 2012, and more recently Teen Mom Kail Lowry-Marroquin did the same. The University of Nevada Las Vegas studied the effects of placentophagia, the scientific term for placenta-eating. They found that of 189 moms who did it, 96% had a positive experience and would do it again, even though 57% reported some negative side-effects, including the bad taste of the pills and how icky the whole thing seems. (No surprise there.)
What isn't known is whether there's real nutrition in the placenta, or whether a new mom just feels better psychologically about ingesting it. Either way, it can't be a bad thing, right?
Placenta Prints 5 of 8
Looking for a wonderful memento from your child's birth? Something beyond your child, that is. How about dropping the organ onto acid free paper vein-side down and making a placenta print? You can hire a professional to help or just do it yourself after watching a video on YouTube. The key seems to be preparation. Gotta make that print when the placenta is fresh and juicy! Apparently, one couple in Brooklyn brought canvases into the birth room with them. That's right — one more thing to add to that go bag.
The prints do look pretty cool, though. Like strange sea creatures, or brains with vine stalk tails.
Make a Teddy Bear 6 of 8
Your kid is literally attached to the placenta for nine months, and then poof — the babe goes out in the world, alone, sans-placenta. Seems kind of sad, don't it? Now you can change that, and make sure your child never has to say goodbye to their afterbirth buddy! Designer Alex Green took a placenta, sliced it in half and cured it with salt. Then he stitched it into a teddy bear and treated it with egg-yolk and tannins to keep it preserved. Viola — your baby's new best friend. Just think what an interesting conversation piece this will be at pre-K show-and-tell.
Make a Placenta Pedant 7 of 8
On Etsy, artist Kelly Silver Wise takes bits of your dehydrated placenta and makes them into pedants, using sterling silver and resin. So now you don't have to part from the placenta, ever. Some parents save first teeth, locks of hair, and we kept the bit of umbilical cord that dropped off of Felix's belly button — why not add placenta to the list of keepsakes?
Paint with Placenta Blood 8 of 8