Bali: The Sacred Placenta

"Developed" countries hardly know what to do with a placenta. Is it trash? A biohazard? Or, is it simply a by-product of the "real" product, the baby? During my era of birthing, families might bury the placenta and then plant a tree above it. Today's moms, however, might consider dehydrating, encapsulating, and then ingesting the nourishment of this "after birth."

In Bali the placenta and all of the "ingredients" of the birthing process have a long and mighty history. Their name is Ari-Ari, which means "younger siblings"--a term that includes the amniotic fluid (Bhuta Nyon), umbilical cord (Bhuta Tabunan), placenta (Bhuta Ari-ari), and blood (Bhuta Rah). All these elements are considered "siblings" of the new baby. Who would consider tossing out the "relatives" who kept the baby safe, helped her grow, and who just helped her leave the womb? This first "family" must be, and is, respected by those who practice traditional Hindu Balinese ways.

One traditional way to show respect is for the father to collect the placenta, the most important Ari-Ari, take it home, wash it, place it in a coconut with flowers and money, wrap it in a white cloth, and bury it outside the family home. Girl placentas are buried on the right hand side of the house, while boy placentas are buried on the left. This practice is thought by some to attract helpful spiritual guides to the child. The burial site will be covered with a black stone, and a prickly bush will be planted on top to protect it.

Another traditional approach to the sacred placenta is practiced in the Balinese village of Bayung Gede (photo). Here the placenta is prepared, placed in a coconut, and hung in a Bungkak tree. Though this tree has lovely orange fruit, it cannot be consumed because the Bungkak tree absorbs the odor of the placenta. No one seems to know why this particular village practices this "hanging" approach rather than the more common "burial" approach to giving the placenta its due.


In an accompanying photo, Robin Lim (photo) discusses "Lotus Birth" with midwives from Sumatra. This is the tradition practiced in Bali (and around the world) of leaving the umbilical cord uncut and the placenta attached to the baby after the birth. Some mothers wait for the umbilical cord to dry and separate on its own in 3-7 days.



Other families choose, after several days, to have a ceremonial burning of the umbilical cord, a ritual which marks the baby's separation from the placenta (photo). Medical literature does not show that infection occurs with this practice; however, some in the western medical world suggest that it offers no known benefit to mother or baby and carries the "potential" for infection. (1) But, Robin Lim (CLICK HERE for YouTube interview) and other professionals (2,3,4) speak passionately about the benefits of not separating the baby prematurely from the "siblings" who have nourished him in the womb.

(1) 2013.  Royal College of OB and GYN. RCOG statement on umbilical non-severance or "lotus birth."
http://www.rcog.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-opinions/statement/rcog-statement-umbilical-non-severance-or-%E2%80%9Clotus-birth. Download 9/15/2013.
(2) 2006. Crowther, S. Lotus Birth: Leaving the cord alone. Pract Midwife. June 9:6.
(3) 2003. Buckley, S. Lotus Birth: a ritual for our times. Midwifery Today Intern'l Midwife. Fall 67:36-8.
(4) 2005. Murphy, M. Lotus after cesarean. Midwifery Today Int Midwife. Winter 76:6.