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I asked folks to “Toss Me: A Birth-Related Word” on my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page and “Placenta” was the one of the words. Here, I’ll use the word as a springboard from which to jump.


Placentas are miraculous organs! The only completely regenerative and disposable organ, specifically made for each new baby grown inside a uterus. I could stop there and we’d all just sit, mouth agape, with wonder and amazement.

I’ve seen some amazing placentas over the last 29 years. Some that were humongous and others that were teeny tiny… and both types with full-term babies. I’ve rarely seen premature babies in my doula or midwifery clients, and haven’t ever even seen one born in front of me. (Isn’t that amazing?!) So, I haven’t seen premature placentas except in photos and yes, they are very small, too.

But seeing really tiny placentas with full-term babies is a whole different thing altogether. One of the smallest I saw was with a mom who weighed over 400 pounds and had a baby a couple of ounces under 5 pounds; her gestational diabetes was completely out of control. That was the first time I learned that gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) can not only make large-for-gestational age (LGA) babies, but also small-for-gestational age (SGA) babies.

The placenta can give so much information about the health of the baby. It can say things about the mom, but years into my learning, I quit being so arrogant/ignorant as to think it only had to do with the mother and her behaviors. Sometimes placentas have their own problems, independent of the host.

Did you hear that?

Sometimes placentas have their own problems, independent of the host.

Even with ultrasounds, the placenta can be having issues and it not be known until the placenta is held in your hands. Midwives should consider placental issues if there are any growth issues with the baby. Hard to diagnose, easier to monitor over time… if done carefully.

Placentophagy (consuming the placenta) is a whole other topic I’m not going to get into except to say I doubt it hurts anyone to ingest, but unless it’s eaten raw right after birth, I have a hard time imagining it does much of anything.

I used to believe putting a piece of placenta under the tongue would help with hemorrhage, but don’t believe that anymore. I know that a shot of Pitocin stops (most cases of) hemorrhage and would go to that in lieu of a bite o’ placenta instead. While the hormones might help, why waste time when it takes 3-5 minutes for the shot of Pitocin to kick in in the first place. If the placenta didn’t work (how long do you wait, anyway?!), then you give the shot of Pit and have to wait that 3-5 minutes more. Do you know how much a woman can bleed in 5-7 minutes? A whole helluva lot. Maybe some would suggest a piece of placenta and a shot of Pit? I just know for me, I would not/could not eat a piece of placenta. Or drink it in a shake. I might be able to ingest it in capsules and did have postpartum depression bad enough that I might have decided to take placenta capsules prophylactically, but have a lot more belief in medication than Placentophagy.

All that said, I still think the placenta is a miracle organ. I love that it holds the baby afloat, that it filters some infectious agents and that the amniotic sac is made from two seran-wrap thin pieces (the amnion and chorion) stuck together, one half (the chorion) that makes the amniotic fluid the baby lives in during its growth. It’s just amazing!

I’ll end with an anecdote about the amniotic sac… some of you may know this story, but I hope you’ll enjoy it again.

My partner Zack had ocular lymphoma (eye cancer) and his surgeons were dry as toast. Z, always amusing, tried to lighten the subject so he didn’t get morosely depressed over the issue at hand. When they were talking about the actual surgery to remove the cancer (what we affectionately call “melon-balling”), they said they had to put a graft over the hole in the eyeball so the eye’s cells could use it like scaffolding, growing back together on each side. Amazing! When Z asked what they were going to use for the graft material, they said they used one of two things. The first was the foreskin of a newborn baby’s circumcised penis. Not kidding. Without skipping a beat, Zack said he couldn’t do that because he’d be cock-eyed. I busted out laughing. The surgeons did not. Boring sticks in the mud!

Z said he couldn’t do that on principal; what was the other choice.

One of the surgeons said, “A chorion.”

I perked up. “Chorion? Like amnion and chorion? From an amniotic sac?!”

They said yes.

I started laughing and said I had several placentas in my freezer, that I could bring swatches of amniotic sacs to see which one matched Zack’s eye color best! Dryly, they said we couldn’t do that, that the “specimen” needed to come from Pathology, blah blah blah. No kidding. I shook my head and said I was joking.

Z said that was what he wanted them to use.

The day of surgery, Zack and I had a little ceremony where we lit a candle and thanked the mother and baby, neither of whom knew the gift they were giving, for the part of the magical organ to help keep Zack’s eyeball safe as it healed. We still think of them today.

Who knew the amniotic sac was used for other things besides the trash? Amazing, isn’t it?

Oh, and Z's cancer is gone. Yay!

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Reader Comments (2)

Was your insurance billed for the piece of chorion? That would put a whole new spin on why some hospitals don't want to release placentas to take home.

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVW

It was an HMO, but I'm sure it's charged elsewhere. Hopefully, someone else can find it on a bill somewhere. No cancer, though! They do use it to cover burns and such, too.

May 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

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