You know how all the books say that you’ll hardly notice your placenta being delivered after the baby arrives? In those glorious moments immediately following your baby’s birth, it’s true that the intense contractions stop immediately, and you’ll be so wrapped up in meeting your baby that you might not even recognize your body telling you, Hey, there’s an extra organ in here that needs to go. Whether it comes out on its own or with a gentle tug on the cord, the placenta definitely gives the limelight to its predecessor, but don’t be too quick to count it out. Whether you want the cord and placenta disposed of, banked, or otherwise preserved, the time to decide is not when you can see them.
The umbilical cord is rife with cultural metaphors. Overly protective parents and overly dependent offspring are equally admonished to “cut the cord”, so it’s an interesting turn of science that you can now hold onto it indefinitely. Why would you want to, though? For some parents, it’s sentimental and sacred. They keep the cord and placenta to bury in their yards or otherwise preserve as a memento of the pregnancy. Other parents consume the cord; raw, cooked, dried, or encapsulated, the cord and placenta can help prevent postpartum depression and increase energy and iron levels in new parents (among other things).
By far the most popular form of preservation is cord blood banking, which is said by its proponents to be a form of insurance, an investment in the future healthcare of a baby. Umbilical cords are rich in stem cells, which are at the forefront of treatments for certain cancers, sickle cell, and metabolic disorders. Should your baby ever require care for these or other transplant-treatable conditions, having access to banked cord blood stem cells could be a great resource.
There are two types of cord blood banks: public and private. Public banks collect donated cord blood and distribute it to patients in need, as needed and available. Donating to and accessing public banks is free to everyone, but patients are not guaranteed access to their own unique cord blood (which may or may not be important). Private banks preserve your baby’s cord blood for you alone, and you are guaranteed singular access to it if needed. There are fees associated with private banks, and they vary widely, so make sure to do your research before choosing the one for you.
The arguments for and against cord blood banking are as long and unresolved as most issues in parenting, but the choice to bank or not is ultimately up to you. Make sure your choice is clear to your care team before your baby is born, though, because the default in many settings is to dispose of the cord and placenta unless instructed otherwise.
The placenta weighs about a pound and a half when your baby is born, and it is one of the coolest things you’ll ever see. Ask your caregivers to show you if you’re interested --- as professionals of the blood persuasion, they should be downright giddy to give an overview. And, really, it’s only by getting up close and personal with this amazing organ that you can begin to appreciate why some parents choose to keep the placenta rather than turn a blind eye as it’s transported to the garbage.
If you choose to keep your placenta, there are a number of things you can do with it. Bury it at home with the cord for sentimentality’s sake, make a placenta print, or consume it like almost every other mammal in the world. Yep, you can eat your placenta, and there are a number of good reasons for doing so:
You don’t necessarily need a strong stomach to eat your placenta. Certainly, some people rave about the unique taste of it when eaten blended up in a smoothie, or in a stew or stir-fry. But others prefer the supplemental quality of having their placentas dried, beef-jerky style, and then crushed and put into capsules that can be swallowed, taste untasted.
You can prepare a placenta for consumption on your own, but there are also professionals available who’ll do it for you --- relieving you of the important responsibility of proper preparation so you can cuddle with your newborn instead. Start by asking your midwife, doula, or doctor for recommendations.
Whether you say bon voyage or bon appétit, at least now you can do it consciously. Tastefully, even.
From the March 2011 issue of The Source
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