The placenta is an organ that your body creates to give your soon-to-be-baby oxygen and nutrients while in the womb. But once the placenta has done its tour of duty, are you done with it? For some moms, the answer is no. Some moms want to keep the placenta to eat at home as a way to potentially stave off some of the less enjoyable after-effects of birth. Others want to plant it with a tree to commemorate the birth.
While it's pretty easy to do what you choose with a placenta after giving birth at home or even at a birthing center, the hospital may be another story. "Hospitals are very worried about safety, because the placenta really is a biohazard," says Titi Otunla, a certified nurse midwife at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston. "It's full of blood, it's not very sanitary-it could be a public health nightmare."
Policies can vary widely from hospital to hospital, so if you're considering keeping your placenta, you may want to check in with your hospital in advance to see how you would go about requesting it, and if there's even a possibility for you to take it home. Some hospitals outright refuse, especially if it appears that the placenta suffered some damage during pregnancy. "We send the placenta to pathology if we think anything abnormal happened during the pregnancy," says Marra Francis, M.D., an ob-gyn in Woodlands, Texas, and an author of the Mommy MD Guides. "We can measure how big the placenta was and how much of it was damaged, and we can let the pediatrician know that this may be a child at risk for developmental delays, because he or she didn't get fully functioning placenta." If your hospital does refuse, you can search for a more placenta-flexible place to give birth, or you can consider fighting it in court. You may want to engage in the court battle pre-birth to ensure your placenta doesn't go bad while you're waiting for the wheels of justice to turn. (That's what happened to Las Vegas mom Anne Swanson, who had to wait too long for the local courts to force her hospital to return her afterbirth to her.)
Some hospitals do allow it, but may place significant hurdles in your way, so it's best to start making arrangements before the delivery. "It's a huge issue to take your placenta from the hospital here," says Siobhan Kubesh, a certified midwife with OB-GYN North in Austin. "The hospital requires new moms to get a court order to take the placenta from the hospital because it's considered transporting a organ."
Even if your hospital is agreeable, you may need to make arrangements to take the placenta home long before you and baby head out the door. "You will probably not be allowed to take the placenta to the postpartum floor when you are transferred there," Otunla says. "You will instead need to arrange for someone to come within an hour or two and take it home and put it in the freezer or refrigerator."
And don't think the hospital is going to wrap that placenta up for you in a to-go bag, either! If you're thinking of saving it, put self-sealed plastic bags and a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid in your hospital bag. You might also consider having ice and a cooler nearby, so the placenta is preserved and bacterial growth is limited if you can't get it home right away.
Even though placenta eating is on the rise, it's still not a common request, so you may find that you get some pushback from hospital staff when you make your request. In most cases, as long as you start your discussion long before baby arrives and make arrangements for safe passage, it can be yours. "It is your placenta, you should be able to do with it as you choose, in a safe way," Otunla says.
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.