baby in womb

Your wonderful placenta – how it supports your baby during pregnancy

by Jenna Logan

The word placenta comes from the Latin word for ‘cake’, and is Greek for ‘flat’. Together it is a flat cake referencing its round, flat appearance. Some like to refer to it as the Tree of Life again referring to its appearance as the veins and arteries look like a tree with roots and resemble that of the tree of life.

The Science behind the placenta

The Placenta is the only organ that we as humans grow after being born. The placenta functions as a fetomaternal organ with two components: The Fetal placenta, which develops from the same blastocyst (the initial bunch of cells at conception) that forms your baby, and the maternal placenta, which develops from the maternal uterine tissue. The umbilical cord is the lifeline that attaches the placenta to the baby. The umbilical cord is made up of three blood vessels, two smaller arteries, which carry blood to the placenta and a larger vein that returns blood to the fetus.

The main function of the placenta is to support the transference of essential nutrients, minerals, oxygen and waste between the mother and baby. Without a healthy well functioning placenta, the health of your baby is compromised. This is why during certain milestone ultrasounds the stenographer will be checking the blood and oxygen flow going to and from your baby along with the position of your placenta.

Fraternal twins will always have their own placenta but in identical twins 60-70% will share a placenta but have separate sacs.

The placenta has long been thought of as a magical part of the creation of a baby

This incredible organ is uniquely designed for your baby and is an integral part of any pregnancy and birth. The placenta physically connects to you and your unborn baby feeding essential oxygen, nutrients and vitamins and sends any waste back to the mother to be excreted through her breath and urine. It performs the functions of the digestive system, immune system, kidneys, liver, skin and lungs while the baby is inside the womb.

Amazing isn’t it! All of these functions are performed continuously by the placenta while the baby(s) grow inside the mother.

The third stage of your labour is the birthing of your placenta

After you have your baby the work is not over and your body now goes into another gear with the help of the hormone oxytocin to help contract the uterus and release the placenta from the uterine wall. Skin to skin with baby immediately after birth aids this process and often distracts the mother from the contractions, as she is engrossed in connecting with her new baby.

The placenta continues to function for some time after the birth and by delaying the cutting of the cord, it helps the baby transition to breathing on its own and receive its full blood volume (including iron and stem cells). By asking for delayed “optimum” cord clamping you can add up to 1/3 of the baby’s essential blood volume that is still being pumped from the placenta at the time of birth. You will notice that the umbilical cord is still pulsating and new research shows the benefits to your baby’s ongoing health by waiting to cut the cord until it has stopped pulsating. This helps the uterus to contract effectively and can help reduce the risk of postpartum haemorrhage.

To find out more about the benefits to your baby by encouraging “optimum” cord clamping watch the Ted Talk by Alan Greene – 90 seconds to change the world.

In which he presents an optimal cord clamping idea with supporting evidence that it will help with your baby getting the oxygen it needs at birth along with iron, stem cells and red and white blood cells which will support your baby in those early minutes of adjusting to life outside of the womb along with lifelong benefits to your child’s development – go to www.theseedcollective.com.au/blog to read about more of the ongoing benefits of waiting to cut the umbilical cord until it ceases pulsing.

So what can you do with your placenta after it has been birthed?

In many cultures around the world the placenta has a significant place and rituals are performed to honour it. Many of the world’s indigenous populations believe that the placenta is an important connection to country and gives us a sense of belonging. In NZ, the Maori traditionally bury the placenta on tribal land, which helps the child to establish a personal and spiritual connection to the land. The Navajo (American Indians) will bury the placenta to ensure the child will always return home. There are many other indigenous traditions where they bury part or all of the placenta as they believe the child will always know where home is or it will bring prosperity to the child’s life. Here in Australia our aboriginal people see the placenta as a hologram of a person’s soul and that it contains our soul map and a connection to Mother Earth is created when buried so she knows that you have arrived and can take care of you.

Some women choose to make a print from their placenta. They do this by patting any excess blood off the placenta and then placing it onto paper to make a print of the tree-of-life. This is an artistic and creative way to honour the placenta and have a keepsake of its beauty. You can also keep the umbilical cord and make a keepsake in the shape of a heart.

More commonly women are consuming their placenta in a range of ways via a placentophagy specialist. The history of various cultures consuming the placenta as a way to help support the mother after birth has been around for 1000’s of years. According to the 1916 Lancet, there are reports as far back as 1556 of women consuming their placenta.

In the 19th century, pharmacies in China, South America and Eastern Europe produced placenta remedies. Up until the end of the 19th century, it was common for European pharmacies to sell placenta powder and still today in China, women make money by selling their placenta to pharmacies. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine the placenta is considered a powerful medicine that is full of vital force.

Some of the benefits you may experience are:

  • Increased milk supply
  • Reduction in post-birth bleeding
  • Replenish essential hormones such as oxytocin and CRH
  • Replenish essential nutrients such as vitamin B6 and Iron
  • Assist in reducing the onset of baby blues or post-partum depression
  • Increase the Mothers energy and supports her with the demands of being a new mum.

It is no wonder that the placenta is revered in so many cultures and traditions as a powerful and spiritually significant part of the birth process. If you don’t have placenta traditions in your own family it is never to late to start your own and if being a parent has shown me one thing it is that you can always start redesigning your traditions and beliefs based on new found information.

If you choose not to do anything with your placenta, after your birth the hospital view it as ‘medical waste’ and it will be disposed of for you.

If you would like to learn more about how this ancient tradition and powerful organ can support you during your postpartum period or learn about 3rd stage delivery of your placenta contact jenna@theseedcollective.com.au

Jenna Logan is a pregnancy and postnatal doula, placenta specialist, mother to two little ones and director of The Seed Collective – a place to go to get all the info you need on how to have an empowered and healthy pregnancy and beyond.  www.theseedcollective.com.au

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