The placenta, also known as the afterbirth, provides nutrition to the fetus. It also removes waste products from the fetus. The umbilical cord arises from the body of the placenta. The fetus is housed inside the amniotic sac which is filled with amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is what people see when a patient says that “her water broke”.
The umbilical cord has two arteries and one vein. The two arteries carry blood to the placenta while the vein returns the blood to the fetus. The umbilical cord has Wharton’s jelly which protects the arteries and the vein. Wharton’s jelly is the same substance that is found inside the human eyeball.
When to cut the Umbilical Cord
Prior to the 1960s, it was commonplace to wait several minutes before cutting the umbilical cord following the delivery of the infant. After that time frame, physicians started clamping and cutting the cord almost immediately after the delivery. The general consensus among ACOG (American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology) is to wait at least 30 seconds to cut the cord, and the World Health Organization is comfortable waiting up to 2 to 3 minutes. Some physicians are advocating cutting the cord when it stops pulsating which will usually happen in about 3 to 5 minutes. Waiting to clamp and cut the cord lowers the risk of anemia for the newborn which is important as the iron in the blood is important for brain development. Of course, these recommendations do not apply if the infant is having problems after the birth like difficulty breathing which would necessitate clamping and cutting the cord quickly. If the umbilical cord is not cut, the cord will seal off in about an hour after birth. Consult with your physician about clamping and cutting the cord, and have a birthing plan ready ahead of time so that you may have the birthing experience that you want.
Eating the Placenta
Eating the placenta, also known as placentophagy, is a practice which has been around for centuries in different parts of the world. People, who are in favor of eating the placenta, feel that this protects the person from postpartum depression and insomnia while improving the person’s energy and increasing lactation (milk production). The placental tissue can be placed in capsules and then ingested. There are also recipes for making smoothies using the placental tissue, and one enterprising chef even made a pate out of the placenta. It is unknown whether heating the tissue will get rid of the proposed beneficial properties. Critics of the practice feel that the benefits felt by the patient after eating the placenta are due to placebo as opposed to any real physiologic effect. Also, the critics cite that there is a risk of infection from eating the placental tissue.
Ultimately, it is up to the patient to make the decision whether they want to eat the placenta or not. If you are interested in eating your placenta, there is a book entitled 25 Placenta Recipes by Robin Cook which you may find interesting. There is also a site for Placental Recipes found on www.twilightheadquarters.com. You can also consult doula-services.com which has a recipe for a placenta smoothie and also offers encapsulation services.
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