The Tree of Life aka-The placenta:
The word placenta comes from a combination of 2 Greek words meaning “plate” and “flat cake” and that’s pretty much the size and shape of a placenta.
When you first become pregnant, the placenta implants into the wall of the uterus and the umbilical cord grows out of it. The umbilical cord generally contains 3 vessels, one vein and two arteries. The vein carries nutrients from the placenta to the baby and arteries bring waste back to the placenta, to be distributed and redirected by the mother, not to be stored inside the placenta.
The foetal side is smooth and with the umbilical cord looks a lot like a tree, hence the nickname “Tree of Life”. It is on the inside of the amniotic sack, that’s kind of like a big balloon that your baby floats inside of. The maternal side (the side attached to the mother) is lumpy and made up of different segments called ‘Cotyledons’ that fit together kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.
The placenta forms a barrier to keep most toxins and bacterial contamination away from your developing baby as their molecular size is too large to pass through. The placenta does not store these contaminants.
Some viruses are smaller however and can cross over the placental barrier. The Placenta also prevents the baby’s blood mixing with the mother’s blood.
The placenta however does store complex nutrients and food products that are passed through to the baby. These nutrients are broken down into simpler versions so that your baby can digest them more efficiently.
The placenta stores fat soluble vitamins A, D, & E and minerals like iron. Which are excellent for immune system health, cell repair and growth of healthy babies.
Your placenta also supplies oxygen to your baby. This is how water births are amazing.. Babies don’t breathe until they hit the air, so whilst your baby is underwater the placenta is still supplying your baby with oxygen.
And then there’s the endocrine system… hormones!! The placenta produces estrogens, progesterone, HCG (human growth hormone) that’s the one that gives you a positive test result on your home pregnancy tests, placental lactogen which eventually stimulates breastmilk production, corticosteroids (that help with immune response, inflammation, swelling , stress and behaviour), possibly adrenaline.. but not so much, and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which helps with the metabolism…
Sooo amazing what this one organ created by yourself and your baby.. Yet so individual from each other.. Can do.
You could not grow your baby without the amazing power of the placenta!!
So is it any wonder that many cultures have a ceremony specific to the “Tree of Life”?
In China as far back as 1578 zi he chi (placenta) was used in Traditional Chinese medicine (and still today) and there is some documentation of placenta usage as medicine in Europe around the 1700’s.
The Ibo of Nigeria and Ghana treat the placenta as the dead twin of the live child and give it full burial rites. In many African cultures, “zan boku” means “the place where the placenta is buried.”
The Kikuyu of Kenya place it in a field and cover it with plants, and other African cultures bury it in the dirt floor of their house.
In Mali, it is thought that the placenta can affect the baby’s mood or even make the baby ill. The placenta is washed, dried, placed in a basket and buried by the father. In many cultures it is the father that carries out the ritual.
A belief held by many Arabian cultures is the future fertility of a woman is connected to the placenta. Should something bad happen to it the woman might be infertile in the future.
In Vietnam, the placenta is viewed as a life force. It is dried and added to certain placenta recipes in order to increase a person’s energy and vitality.
In Indonesia, the placenta is seen as the baby’s twin or sibling and is thought to be the baby’s guardian throughout life. It is the father’s responsibility to clean, wrap, and bury the placenta on the day of the birth.
Filipino mothers are known to bury the placenta with books, in hopes of a smart child.
In Korea the placenta is often burned and the ashes kept. During periods of illness the ashen powder is given in a liquid to help heal the child.
In Cambodia, the placenta is carefully wrapped in a banana tree leaf, placed beside the newborn baby for three days and then buried.
In Thai culture the placenta is often salted and placed in an earthen jar. The jar is buried under a tree that corresponds to the symbol of the Asian year of the child’s birth and it’s faced a certain direction depending upon which month the child was born.
For Navajo Indians, it is customary to bury a child’s placenta within the sacred four corners of the tribe’s reservation as a binder to ancestral land and people. The Navajos also bury objects with it to signify the profession they hope the child will pursue.
In Hawaii the placenta is brought home and washed, then buried following a religious ritual where a tree is planted on it. It is believed this binds the child to his or her homeland. The “iewe” (placenta) of the newborn child is sacred and must be handled in a sacred manner in order to provide for the physical health of the child.
In some regions of South America the placenta is burned after birth to neutralise it and is planted in the ground to protect it from evil spirits.
Some other South American cultures believe the placenta has its own spirit. It is washed and buried by the husband in a secret darkened place. If not performed correctly, they believe that the mother or baby may become very sick or even die.
In Maori culture they give the Placenta or Whenua as a gift to Papa Tua Nuku or Mother Earth. In Maori, the word for land and placenta are the same (whenua) which illustrates the connection between them. It is usually planted with a tree on family land. Also very similar is the Aboriginal ritual so sacred and not highly documented.
In the animal kingdom, nearly all land mammals consume their placentas right after birth. There are several different documented theories as to why they do this.
THEORY #1- Labour is long hard work that exhausts the mother so much that seeing the placenta post birth has the ability to turn herbivores (plant eaters) to carnivores (meat eaters) because they are hungry.
This theory is flawed because plant eaters offered other meats post birth refuse and even mammals that have eaten during labour still consume their placenta.
THEORY #2- Is that the mothers have no choice in the matter that it’s completely instinctual as part of the birthing process.
This theory is flawed as other animals in the pack quite often ingest the placenta if the mother is unable.
THEORY #3- Is possibly the most widespread theory and that is that they consume their placentas post birth to protect their young from predators. As if the predator sees or smells the products of birth they will know that there is a baby and easy prey.
This theory is flawed because they do not consume the amniotic fluid or the blood and predators could surely smell that. That and even mammals with no predators consume their placentas post birth.
In the U.S.A, U.K and Australia placenta encapsulation is becoming increasingly popular and wider spread thanks to publicity from Hollywood types openly boasting of their amazing results.
In Australia we have many choices, we can chose to encapsulate for ingestion to receive the benefits of the vitamins, minerals and hormones stored in the placenta ourselves for healing, we can have them prepared and plant our placentas under a tree to nourish the soil and return it to the land as some other cultures do, we can have some powder made into jewellery or even make gorgeous cord dream catchers.
The options are truly endless.
If you choose to encapsulate be sure and find yourself an experienced, insured, certified, encapsulation professional that follows all the guidelines. That preferably is a verified member of Australia’s governing encapsulation body Placenta Services Australia.
A professional that does not encapsulate in their home kitchen instead has a sterile sanitary space set up specifically for placenta services. Unfortunately, there are a few cowboys out there and a fine line between receiving all the benefits from your irreplaceable gift and spoilage, which has the potential to cause illness.
We have so many ways to respect an organ that has grown and nourished our babies within our bodies for 40+ weeks. An organ without which the baby would not exist. An organ that doesn’t deserve to be medical waste and incinerated.
Respect the ‘Tree of Life’.