Honoring the Placenta Around the World

For centuries many cultures from around the world have known about the tremendous power of the placenta.  Some cultures believe the placenta is sacred and honor it in a ceremonial right.  Revered for its symbolism of life, spirit and individuality, it is often buried outside under a tree for people to bear witness of its growth alongside of the child it nourished in utero.  Among the Navajo Indians it is customary to bury a child’s placenta within the sacred Four Corners to bind them to their ancestral land and their people.  New Zealand’s Maori tribe have the same tradition of burying the placenta in their native soil, and their name for placenta and land are the same, whenua.  Some cultures such as the Bolivian Aymara and Quecha people believe that the placenta has its own spirit beyond that of the child.  For the Chinese and Vietnamese, it is customary to prepare the placenta into a stew for consumption by the mother after childbirth to assist in recovery and improve lactation.  In Italy, women eat parts of the placenta to help with lactation as well.  And knowledgeable midwives in this country have their birth mothers consume pieces of raw placenta following delivery to help stop or prevent hemorrhaging, due to its abundant supply of prostaglandin and oxytocin.


Traditional Chinese Method

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been using placenta medicinally for thousands of years.  One of the well-known TCM uses for placenta (Zi He Che), is to help with insufficient lactation.  It is believed that Zi He Che can help to tonify the liver and kidneys and augment the body’s vital essence.  It can help to augment the Qi and nourish the blood.  Zi He Che also helps to tonify the lung qi and augment the kidney essence.  In TCM theory, the process of labor and birth leaves a lot of open, empty space, which is considered very yin, or cold.  Therefore one major way to promote healing during the postpartum period is to add yang energy via heat.  Incorporating steam and warming herbs such as garlic, and ginger, create a warming, tonifying, and nourishing medicine for the postpartum period.  Other uses in TCM include but are not limited to, infertility, back pain, light headedness, night sweats, respiratory illness, wheezing, and fatigue.  Soykova-Pachnerova et al. (1954) conducted a study on 210 women who were expected to have insufficient milk supply. Some of the women were given dried placenta, while the remaining women were given a placebo of beef.  The results indicated, 86.2% of the women given dried placenta showed a positive increase in their milk production, compared to beef-fed mothers who showed a 33% increase.