Don't Eat Your Placenta ... Donate It


The placenta used to be an afterthought of birth, the extra bit pushed (or pulled!) out after the baby's arrival. These days, however, moms have big plans for their afterbirth, whether they're sucking down placenta smoothies through a straw like Girls' Gaby Hoffmann or popping placenta pills like Kourtney Kardashian. But you don't have to be a celebrity mama to make good use of that extra organ you grew during pregnancy ... nor do you have to eat it. In fact, a growing number of outlets would prefer you donate your placenta instead. 


Yes, donate it. 

Although it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "organ donor," the placenta is technically an endocrine organ grown during pregnancy. It produces hormones that affect both mom and baby, and it's vital for fetal survival. But unlike most organs, its usefulness is short-lived. Moms can't hang on to the placenta for another pregnancy, so if she doesn't want to keep it for eating (aka placentophagy), burial, or another placenta tradition, most hospitals will simply dump the placenta in with other medical waste. 

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But Sarah Diina, director of marketing and development for Unyts, a nonprofit organ, eye, tissue, and community blood center in western New York, says that "waste" is actually a valuable medical resource. 

"Tissues found in the placenta have the potential to be used as medical aids," Diina explains. "The amnion, the innermost layer of the placenta, is made up of a special combination of cells which makes it unique in the human body. This membrane is comprised of cells whose properties allow it to aid in the healing process of the human body.

"Each donated placenta provides between 12 and 100 different amnion grafts that can be produced for transplantation, resulting in up to 100 lives that can be enhanced or saved," Diina continues. 

This isn't new science. 

Amnion and chorion -- another of the membranes that make up the placenta -- have been used to treat wounds since the early 1900s, with doctors turning to amnion specifically in the '50s and '60s as a skin substitute for burn treatment. Since 2004, processed amniotic membrane from birth tissue donation has become recognized as an effective treatment for ophthalmic, diabetic, burn, anti-adhesion, orthopedic, nerve, and tendon wound repair.

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These days amnion is also used in a wide range of ocular and dental surgical procedures, as well as urological and neurological reconstructive procedures, Diina says, and it's used in combination with skin grafts for burn victims and on difficult-to-heal wounds such as diabetic foot and leg ulcers. Amnion can reduce pain, inflammation, and scar tissue while also speeding up the recovery process.

Placenta donation is free for the donor, and the placenta isn't touched until baby's safely in the world, so there's no risk to mom or baby, Diina says. 

So what's the catch?

Moms need to undergo blood tests to ensure they're healthy and won't pass any diseases via the placenta. They also need to deliver via C-section. This isn't because of any bias toward vaginal birth, Diina says. It's just the way the process works. 

"The recovery needs to take place in a sterile environment with staff from Unyts on hand," she notes. 

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In other words, donations do need to be pre-scheduled. It's recommended you talk to your ob-gyn or midwife before your birth. They can put you in contact with an organ bank in your area, or you can check out the US Department of Health and Human Services list of organ procurement organizations around the country to find one near you. 

"While moms are able to cherish the miracle of their new baby, transplant recipients are able to cherish the miracle of healing through the generous decision of the mom to donate her birth tissues," Diina says. 

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