During Cord Blood Awareness Month we are honoring the wisdom of those who came before us by reconnecting to the natural healing gift of blood. Cord blood specifically is the life force shared between gestational parent and fetus as they prepare for birth. During pregnancy the umbilical cord connects the fetus to the placenta and the placenta connects to the parent. The placenta is an organ that attaches to the uterine walls of the gestational parent and develops throughout pregnancy. It acts as a life support system delivering blood, oxygen, and nutrients while also removing waste products from the fetus.
Once the baby is born the umbilical cord is still attached to the placenta and the placenta will then be birthed shortly after. The nutrient-rich blood that remains within the umbilical cord, the umbilical cord itself, and the placenta can either be discarded as medical waster or some parents choose to take steps to preserve them.
Numerus cultures around the world honor the birthing parent with celebrations, gifts, music, and food. Some cultures have specific practices when greeting the newborn, such as delayed naming, delayed baths, special baths, clothing, or jewelry. Many communities that engage in ways of honoring birth believe that the experience is sacred and so must be recognized in certain ways to avoid ill effect to the parent or child or both!
Through shared stories we have learned about the tradition of burying, burning, hanging, or consuming the placenta. In this way communities honor the afterbirth due its vital role in supporting both lives through pregnancy. Consuming the placenta after the cord blood is drained is said to prevent postpartum depression, reduce postpartum bleeding, improve mood, energy, and milk supply after birth. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has suggested ways of preparing the placenta however references to consuming the placenta have also been found in dated texts in Melanesia as well as more recently amongst the Gullah people of the Carolinas.
Socially these practices are significant because they mark the passage as special and recognize the importance of the people involved. Personally the practice of consuming the placenta has been enthusiastically endorsed as a vital support to physical wellness. These moments bring communities together and strengthen familiar support which helps support the mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of the parents and newborn.
However you choose to honor your birth I urge you to consider the why behind it. Think about why it is important for you to honor your birth and the how may become more evident. A doula (like myself) can assist you with creating a birth blessing or similar ceremony to recognize this transition in your life. If you determine that you would like to preserve your placenta make sure to notify your provider, birth partner, and/or doula and remind any staff who may be interacting with you that they must preserve the placenta and not discard it as waste. If you choose to discard as medical waste there are no additional steps you must take, the staff involved with your birth will automatically remove the organ after it is birthed.
How do you honor birth in your family? What are your traditions? Will you create new ones? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments below!
Sarah Foster is a Holistic Wellness Educator and Full Spectrum Doula in Altamonte Spring, FL that provides whole person wellness education along with a full spectrum of support for all birthing outcomes. This support includes providing thoughtful emotional, spiritual, and physical support before, during, and after pregnancy and pregnancy release. If you or someone you love are interested in support let's connect! I look forward to meeting you!