Placenta Birth Choices.
The placenta and its care is a vital part of a healthy pregnancy and birth, as together with the baby’s cord, amniotic fluid and 2 membranes or sacs, it is “The Fetal Life Support System” until the baby is living outside the womb.
Each baby and its placenta, cord, amniotic fluid and membranes develop simultaneously following the union of the ovum (egg) and sperm. Placental function begins from implantation until the baby has moved to life outside the womb, if we allow it to complete its work.
In the womb, the placenta does the work of a heart, lungs, kidneys, endocrine and digestive system for each baby as it grows; pumping blood through baby and placenta; taking oxygen and other nutrients from the mother’s blood as well as protecting the baby from many toxic substances and excreting most growth waste by-products (some is left in the baby’s bowel; this is meconium). Placental hormones maintain the pregnancy and promote fetal development as well as initiate and maintain labour, and together with placental antibodies these hormones are vital to optimal health for the baby’s life.
Placental delivery or birth?
Delivery of the placenta or ‘Active Management of the Third Stage of Labour’ (from delivery of the baby to delivery of the placenta and membranes) involves interrupting the natural hormonal flow and pacing of this event by injecting an artificial stimulant, early clamping of the cord then positioning and prodding the mother so another person can try to safely pull the placenta out of her. A review of recent developments of placental delivery practices shows that most if not all, lack consistency, evidence or consideration of natural methods though there is recognition of some harmful consequences of these procedures. This is particularly so in regard to clamping of the cord as explained by Midwife Rachel Read and myself in a previous blog.
On-line articles by Midwife Rachel Read and Dr Sarah Buckley explain the differences between how to support physiological birth of the placenta and fostering ‘Active Management’ or placental delivery and some of the harms and benefits of both approaches. As suggested by Rachel’s list of the factors which aid physiological placental birth, natural placental birth firstly requires that healthy women chose to birth in a supportive environment (usually not a hospital) and be attended by people who protect and promote effective flow of the labour hormones (usually an holistic homebirth midwife).
However a placenta is delivered or born, all placentae are examined for completeness and features which may impact on the health of mother and, or baby. This event should also be shared with the family as well as documented in the woman’s notes.
True ‘Afterbirth’ care choices.
Once the cord, placenta and membranes are out of the mother’s body there are other choices about their treatment other than cutting, clamping and disposal such as;
- The cord maybe tied off with a soft, bought (eg thick dental floss or a shoe-lace) or hand-made tie of either flax-string (‘muka’) or plaited threads, rather than clamped by a rigid peg.
- The cord may be burnt or ‘candled‘ to separate it from baby rather than tying or cutting it.
- ‘Lotus birth’ practices support the natural separation of placenta and cord from the baby, which can take from 3 to 5 days and encourages gentle, low levels of baby handling which can be advantage .
- Creating a placenta print is a way of remembering the unique features of your baby’s placenta as well as honouring it.
- Planting a tree over a buried placenta is enhanced by the use of a traditional and, or ecological container such as an Ipu Whenua basket.
- Placenta encapsulation or placentaphagy is one form of placenta ‘medication’ to aid recovery from lost blood and, or hormones that can impact some women even following a ‘good’ birth. Professional encapsulation costs about $NZ 250 -280 and takes 3 days. Alternatively small placenta pieces can be individually wrapped and frozen, or dried by slow cooking @ 80 degree in an oven over a week. Either way the fragments are swallowed like a tablet regularly or when needed over the first week after birth.
- When frozen for storage before burial or other usage, a placenta needs to be clearly labelled!
At the beginning of your world, I was part of you.
Made of the same luminous fabric, flesh of your flesh, of our father and mother’s being.
As we grew, we were separated but united.
I fed you, breathed for you, became a pathway for the flushing currents of our mother’s blood.
As you slept, I was your cradle and your guard; when you awoke I was your companion.
Together for that last day I leashed you the very limits of our linking line before
releasing you to the touch of others – lovers, yes – but surely none will hold
you as nearly, as sweetly or as softly as I did.
As our connection was severed you wept for me once, then were gone.
Carry me deep in your heart as you bury me in the soil of our home,
for I am the earth of your making.
The Maori name for placenta is Whenua, which also means land or environment; such a name is reflective of the placenta’s importance to Maori and in reality to all of us.