The placenta, a temporary organ, has a crucial role to play in pregnancy. It nourishes the fetus, also bringing oxygen and removing waste for the mother’s kidneys to dispose of. This essential organ also regulates hormone production throughout pregnancy and is responsible for sustaining the pregnancy. The placenta, attached to the baby via the umbilical cord, is born shortly after the birth of the baby.
We know that with the exception of just a few species, all mammals, including herbivores, consume their placenta as an innate behavior after giving birth to their young. Some say the behavior, also known as placentophagy, satisfies a nutritional need of the mother. Others claim it is a way for the animal to clean their nest in an effort not to attract predators. While at first glance, the cleaning-of-the-nest theory makes sense, we know that animals whose young can walk immediately after the birth, such as horses or giraffes, still consume their afterbirth with great enthusiasm even though they could just walk away from the birth site to a perceived safer location. Similarly, monkey species also engage in placenta consumption even though they could let the placenta fall to the ground below away from their tree-top birthing location.
If mammalian mothers only consume placenta as a way to clean the nest site, why don’t they take the time to lick up the blood and other fluids from giving birth? What are they gaining from the practice? And finally, if most other mammals do it, why don’t humans eat placenta after birth?
The Fire Hypothesis:
Last spring, I had the pleasure of attending PlacentCon, a conference for birth workers that hosted many presentations centered around the placenta and placentophagy. The conference, held in Las Vegas, had speakers from a variety of specialties, but one of the most memorable talks was given by Dr. Daniel Benyshek, medical anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Dr. Benyshek, along with researcher, Sharon Young, discussed their work with the groundbreaking placebo VS. placenta study currently underway at UNLV. When asked about why humans don’t innately engage in placentophagy, Dr. Benyshek had a fascinating hypothesis.
He explained that as a species, early humans probably did consume their placenta after birth. When fire was discovered millions of years ago, trees, absorbing heavy metals from the earth, were then burned. As a result, expecting mothers were around smoke and inhaling it regularly. While we know that the placenta does not act like a filter, holding onto toxins, it does have difficulty ridding itself of heavy metals. As the women were around smoke more and more, their placentas had increased levels of cadmium and lead. Upon ingesting their placentas after giving birth, women began either getting very ill or dying, and over time, we evolved to discontinue the practice. For the same reason, in present day, it is thought that cigarette smoking in mothers is a contraindication of placenta encapsulation.
Though there is research supporting the benefits of placentophagy in new mothers, the body of research is small and incomplete. The anecdotal evidence, however, showing that placenta encapsulation can help ease a new mother’s transition into motherhood is overwhelming. Women who consume their placentas often report:
Whatever the cause of placentophagy in the animal kingdom, it’s clear that moms from across the world are pleased with the results from utilizing their placenta for postpartum recovery. It’s exciting to see more research developing about this practice. Stay tuned in 2016 for the results of UNLV placenta VS. placebo study to be published!
Today’s guest blog post comes to your from Paige Barocca of Baltimore Birth Services. Paige serves the families in our community as a birth doula and a babywearing advocate.
I’ve been an avid babywearer since the birth of my son in 2012. Like choosing the breastfeed, babywearing was just something that I knew I would do from the start. There were many reasons why I knew I would be wearing my baby. After wearing one baby into toddlerhood and starting all over again with my baby girl, I have come to realize that being a babywearing mama has taught me some unexpected lessons. First, I want to share three of my initial intentions when wrapping that first baby to my chest.
Babywearing deepens the bond between parent and baby.
Wearing your baby can be as calming and blissful as a good swaddle, with the added benefit of being snug right up to your chest. Sometimes I would even wear my baby skin to skin, under a robe or open sweater. To your baby, nothing beats that familiar smell and unmatchable warmth of a mother. Recreating the close quarters of a womb and combining that with human touch (dads too!) really is the perfect recipe to keeping that baby calm. This is especially helpful for breastfeeding moms, babies love the smell of mama’s milk, and what better way to encourage breastfeeding than resting near the source? Not to mention that fathers who may be wanting to connect with their newborns (and give mom a break!) can also do so through babywearing between feeding and during naps.
Babywearing meets your baby’s needs while allowing you to meet yours.
While your baby is cozy in the nest you made them on your chest, your hands can be free. I certainly don’t recommend doing housework immediately postpartum, but eating a meal (that someone else prepared you) is a lot easier with two hands! I’ve found this to be particularly helpful the second time around, while chasing around big brother. Speaking of toddlers, I can’t think of a better way to keep a busy babe happy and out of trouble in a grocery store- my son stayed strapped on my back every trip until the next was born! From doing your nails to walking the dogs, wearing your baby can give you that freedom that many new mothers feel they have lost.
Babywearing brings baby to the action.
Newborns sleep a lot, and usually at odd times! Getting in the habit of putting them down or tucking them away removes them from social situations. More so, if you have a baby that likes to be held, and very few don’t, you may find yourself removed from social situations as your arms become an immovable bed for your sleeping beauty. When you wear your baby, your baby goes with you, typically undisturbed by movement or change in environment. If your baby is awake, being worn can give baby a chance to see people interact at eye level, providing more social perks than being on the ground with a bunch of toys. I have worn my baby to busy restaurants, parties, meetings, you name it and we’ve been there.
Now for the juicy part. What are the life lessons that await any future babywearers? Spoiler Alert! Here are my surprise extras that I gained just for being a mama with a wrap.
Babywearing gave me confidence!
Babywearing is not totally difficult, you can choose to strap a baby in a backpack and call it a day. I really never loved the fit of a backpack on my petite body, or a sling on one shoulder, so my go-to style has always been a wrap. Choosing to wrap was easy, learning to wrap was tougher, and being confident in my skills, as well as my maternal instincts, took time! It was a while before I would use my wrap in a parking lot, or wrap without a mirror. As with every skill, I began to take pride in myself and this special talent that I could share with my babies.
Babywearing builds a village!
I have met so many wonderful friends through my love of babywearing and the style of parenting it represents. When wrapping, I often have strangers encouraging me, asking if I need any assistance. More than once I’ve had someone literally ask if they could just stand and watch me do it. (Again, talk about confidence boosting!) I’m often met with questions from new mothers about how I do it and where can they learn? Just today at the park I sparked a conversation with another mom as she asked, “How do you get her down from there?” I’ve become a teacher and supporter of my community simply by going outside with my baby! Babywearing has opened to doors to so many new adventures and introduced me to a number of beautiful people who now remain a big part of my life.
Babywearing does not look the same on everyone!
When I first set out to babywear, I went out and bought some fabric and sewed it all together. I came to realize there is a whole community of babywearers who do things all sorts of ways. This can be intimidating because some serious wrappers will spend oodles of money on one hand-woven, “dear-in-search-of”. Yes, that is a term! Although they are beautiful, and I have a few moderately priced wraps, the wrap I tend to reach for the most is an Ikea sheet that I chopped in half. The response I get when I wear my sheet is just as grand (if not more!) then when I wear my Girasol Amitola Azafaran weft. Furthermore, there are so many different carriers! There are slings, and buckles, and mei tais, oh my! There are as many ways to wear your baby as there are reasons to wear them. Just like everything else in parenting, no single one is better than the rest, you just have to pick what works best for you!