Planting Your Placenta

Find out why some moms want to bury their afterbirth.
Marty Baldwin

So you aren't quite ready to let go of your placenta--your child's first source of nutrition. But maybe the whole eating-the-placenta thing totally gives you the heebie-jeebies. The good news? There's another way to honor this temporary piece of you, without requiring a triple-dog-dare level of intestinal fortitude, and that's planting the placenta, often with a beautiful tree that can grow along with your child.

Many cultures, including the Navajo Indians and New Zealand's Maori, bury the placenta to symbolize the baby's link to the earth. But burying the placenta may have had practical reasons as well. "If they just threw it out, it was going to attract wild animals and maggots and flies," says Marra Francis, M.D., an ob-gyn in Woodlands, Texas, and an author of the Mommy MD Guides. "So burying it was a good way to get rid of it."

Having your placenta ready to plant is easy if you have a home birth, but can be a little more problematic if you've given birth at a hospital. The hospital will most likely hold on to the placenta for a few days, in case an issue with the baby requires some further investigation. "We can send the placenta to pathology, if we think anything abnormal happened during the pregnancy," Dr. Francis says. "They can study how big it was, how much of it was possibly damaged, and we can let the pediatrician know this may be child at risk for developmental delays or cerebral palsy, because he or she didn't get fully functioning placenta." If you don't make arrangements to take the placenta home before you give birth, odds are it will be put in with other medical waste and incinerated within a day or two of your birth.

Nowadays, some parents make a big deal out of planting the placenta. "They take it home to put it in the garden and plant a tree or some roses to commemorate the birth," says Titi Otunla, a certified nurse midwife at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston. Many parents choose plants with special significance--fruit trees such as olive, lemon, and cherry are popular, as are rosebushes and other flowering plants.

"I buried mine under a spruce tree--I think the tree really liked it," says Daria Paxton, a landscape designer at Gaia Gardens in Montclair, New Jersey. "As far as how deep to plant it, that really depends on where you live and what kind of soil you have and how high the water table is, and whether or not you have a pet that likes to dig, since you really, really don't want to visit it again!" Paxton suggests planting the placenta about two feet deep. "It should ideally decompose before coming in direct contact with roots," she says. Some women who have planted a placenta have put several inches of dirt into the hole after they planted their placenta, then placed the tree or plant in it, to allow the placenta time to decompose before the roots hit it.

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