Placenta rituals have been observed in many different native and indigenous cultures. Most commonly the midwives were responsible for burying the placenta in a place that the community determined so that the growing child could return there for the rest of their life. The placenta was usually buried near the base of a tree or it was common for the placenta to be planted with a seed so that a tree could grow from this spot. In this way a permanent birthing symbol was recorded to reflect knowledge of the birth itself and of the larger culture and community.
The caring for the placenta was more than ritual or mysticism but seen as a true medicine that would protect and heal the newborn, and that failing to bury the placenta properly would result in the child having a tendency to be 'ungrounded'. It was thought that the planting of the placenta was a time for spiritual growth for both the newborn and their parents as ancestors were called upon to guide the baby and adults in their journey as a new family. Once the tree began to grow at the site of the placenta burial it was considered to be filled with spirit guides that would assist the child and young adult in times of need. Other Native American tribes would cover the placenta in sweet grass and sage and then wrap it in a tanned buffalo hide for keeping. When the placenta was finally buried prayers of protection for the baby and mother were recited.
In other cultures eating the placenta was common until childbirth began to take place in hospital rather than at home or in the community. Many mammals in the animal kingdom eat the placenta instinctually to replace iron and other minerals lost during birth. Although this may not be for everyone the benefits of placenta encapsulation have been documented to assist in everything from decreasing post-partum blues to increasing milk supply and boosting energy levels.
Today midwives continue to assess the placenta for signs of overall health or concern of illness for both mother and baby. It is possible after birth to create your own ritual for the placenta from pausing to notice its shape and condition to requesting to take it home for burial or encapsulation. Awareness of our bodies is empowering and until recently some modern women have never stopped to ask what happens to the placenta after birth. By only asking this question you can open a space to decide for yourself how you want to recognize and honor the placenta as 'Tree of Life' with a vital role in supplying life force to mother and baby.