Biology, Meaning of Words

The Placenta: The Source of all Human Life

nurturing placenta

“The beautiful life-giving placenta is given back to the earth to continue is life-giving journey. Family and friends can be invited and a libation can be given to the ancestors. Thank the spirit guides and the placenta for protecting the child”.

–West African quote

The Role of the Nurturing Placenta in Celebrating the Miracle of Birth

Throughout history, in many cultures, the nurturing placenta, one of the miracles that makes life possible, has played an important part in rituals and ceremonies celebrating the birth of life. For example, in Indonesian culture, and many others, the placenta is believed to be a protective link between the child and the earth. Fathers are responsible for either burying the placenta near home to endure that the child remains close to the family, or taking it to sea to ensure travel and a wide perspective.

Regarded as sacred, some cultures believed its nurturing properties prevented bleeding, depression and other ailments associated with childbirth. Others, such as those in Russia and China, have used it as medicine to treat fatigue and infertility. Some cultures practice the ritual of placentophagy, in which the placenta is eaten. According to one article, the nurturing placenta is the mother of us all.

Functions of the Nurturing Placenta

The nurturing placenta, named for the Latin word for “cake” is a pancake-shaped organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall. It serves many other functions as well. In addition to providing oxygen and vital nutrients, it also eliminates waste through a process called diffusion. Using IgG antibodies, it fights infections, provides immunities and produces essential hormones.

Human chorionic gonadotropin is the hormone that prevents spontaneous abortion. Progesterone serves to help the embryo pass through the fallopian tubes and implant successfully. It also stimulates an increase in secretions for fetal nutrition. Estrogen is crucial for growth of the fetus and production of milk after the birth of the baby as well as increasing the blood supply.

Development of the Nurturing Placenta

The placenta develops in layers from a single blastocyst The outer layer of the blastocyst becomes the trophoblast, and forms the outer layer of the placenta. This outer layer is further divided into two more layers called the cytotrophoblas and the syncytiotrophoblast layers. The syncytiotrophoblas covers the surface of the placenta.

The average fully developed placenta measures approximately 22 cm (9 inch) in length and 2–2.5 cm (0.8–1 inch) in thickness. It is thickest in the center and thinnest around the edges. Crimson in color, it weighs just over one pound or 500 grams. The 55-60 cm (22 to 24 inches) umbilical cord is developed by the nurturing placenta to connect mother and child through the chorionic plate. Maternal blood begins circulating through the placenta towards the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, coming into contact with the fetal chorion. Deoxygenated fetal blood passes through umbilical arteries to the placenta, where it is oxygenated and carried to the baby through the umbilical vein.

From Nurturing Placenta to Afterbirth

The process of placental expulsion, the final stage of delivery doesn’t begin until 15 to 30 minutes after the birth of the child. In some traditions, it is customary for the father of the child to make the symbolic gesture of cutting the umbilical cord.

For many years, in Western cultures, the attending doctor cut the cord immediately after birth. However, that practice is slowly changing as new parents move towards more holistic and traditional methods of childbirth, such as the use of doulas or midwives, rather than hospital births. A practice called “lotus birth” in which the umbilical cord is not cut at all is gaining popularity. Even without cutting the cord, the placenta would fall away naturally within a day or two.

According to one article, some experts believe that because the area around the umbilical cord seals itself about an hour after birth, by not clamping and cutting the cord, newborns can get one last beneficial transfusion of blood from the nurturing placenta. Placental blood is rich in stem cells and immunoglobulin that helps fight infections.

Today’s parents have the benefit of combining age-old natural wisdom and modern medical technology to make childbirth the safest and best experience possible.

nurturing placenta
Wooden placenta bowl, Maori, New Zealand,1890-1925 Science Museum A6697, #L0064825
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