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The Spiritual Significance of the Placenta

Klara Miller

Written by Andrea Takacs-Carvalho
Photograph by Meghan Harlow

The moment a baby is born a mother is also born, since the woman who birthed was initiated in a sacred ceremony; she is not the same maiden who carried the baby in her womb. In that moment she experienced a Rite of Passage - a physical and Spiritual transition that changed her core and her identity. In preparation for this process, her body already loved that baby so much that she created a full organ from scratch to sustain the baby’s life - the placenta: a sacred organ that supports and develops new Life, and the fetus’ only source of food, blood, oxygen, and nutrients. That powerful woman sacrificed her own substance so that Life would pass on to another. She then discovers her own strength when she births her baby and the placenta, and indubitably also herself, in the most memorable experience of her life. In that same moment the placenta completes its cycle and dies to allow the baby’s first independent breath.

Traditions from several cultures have been treating the placenta with respect and admiration for its accomplishment and meaning, and many cultures around the world have specific ceremonies for handling it - a strong contrast to how Western medicine treats placentas as human waste. In gratitude for the gift of fertility and the birth of the baby, most cultures respectfully bury the placenta, returning the nutrients and its sacred energy back to Mother Earth, the creator of all physical life. Chinese culture has been carefully treating and using placentas for thousands of years, acknowledging its intrinsic nutritional value by preparing the placenta for consumption. The practice of ingesting pills with the mother’s placenta that has been cooked, dehydrated, ground up, and placed into capsules is called placenta encapsulation. After birth, the woman’s body undergoes drastic changes in hormones, organs shift, blood levels decrease, and more; the placenta contains hormones that can ease the postpartum period, improve milk supply, and even prevent postpartum depression. I chose to have my son’s placenta encapsulated, and it effectively aided me during postpartum recovery, especially because I experienced hemorrhaging after a procedure called cord traction. If consuming the placenta doesn’t align with you, you can still bring it home and perform a burial ceremony, or at least do a respectful disposal filled with intentions for healing.

 Art by Stepha Lawson  @DoulaScienceAndSoul

Art by Stepha Lawson @DoulaScienceAndSoul

Many traditions believe that placentas have their own spirit, and the known rituals created to care for them indicate the existence of an energetic body of the organ. Similarly to how our bodies store sentiments in specific places of our anatomy, the placenta also holds rich emotional and spiritual stories. The placenta is part of the consciousness of the whole mother-baby unit; therefore, the emotional and physical shift caused by the experience of giving birth may cause women to feel a genuine sense of loss of literally giving part of themselves for new life to exist. This feeling may be mistakenly masked by the euphoria of finally embracing the newborn, yet, it indeed becomes imprinted on the mother’s soul. Placenta burying rituals have the power to create closure of the pre-birth physical connection, and end any potential unhealthy emotional dependence between mother and child. It can be even more powerful and meaningful when done in conjunction with a milestone, such as a blessing, a birthday, or the return of menstruation. The ritual is so important that it can be done with the capsules if the placenta was treated, or alternatively without the placenta if the organ is not available to the mother. In place of the placenta, the mother can create a fabric pouch and fill it with items representing the emotions and memories of her childbirth experience.

Creating a ritual to show gratitude for the child’s life, and surrender for our limitations as mothers, has a long-term healing impact on the baby, the mother, and their lineage.