Placenta Rituals and Folklore from around the World

Across cultures, rituals honor and spiritually protect newborns and mothers through the placenta

Post-birth rituals around the world often focus on the newborn baby’s placenta. These practices aim to honor the placenta and spiritually protect both the baby and mother during the significant transitions of birth and the postnatal period.

  1. In Cambodia, the placenta of a baby, referred to as ‘the globe of the origin of the soul’ by traditional Cambodian healers, must be buried in a specific location and orientation to safeguard the baby. The burial place may be covered with a plant with spikes to prevent interference from evil spirits and dogs, as such interference could have long-term effects on the mother’s mental health.
  2. According to Doña Miriam, a traditional midwife from Costa Rica, the newborn placenta should be wrapped in paper, buried in a dry hole, and covered with ashes from the stove. This ritual protects the mother from entuertos, which are retained blood clots, cramps, and infection.
  3. The influence of the child’s placenta and cord is believed to extend long after birth in many cultures. In Turkey, the placenta is referred to as the baby’s friend or comrade and is wrapped in a clean cloth before being buried. The cord, on the other hand, may be buried in the courtyard of a mosque if the parents desire their child to be devout in later life. Likewise, if the parents want their child to receive a good education, they may throw the cord over a schoolyard wall.
  4. According to reports, the Kwakiutl of British Columbia buried a daughter’s placenta at the high-tide mark to enhance her clam-digging skills. In contrast, a Kwakiutl son’s placenta was exposed to ravens, which were believed to grant him prophetic vision later in life.
  5. In many cultures, the placenta symbolizes the child’s connection to their family, tribe, and land. For instance, the Maori of New Zealand refer to the placenta as ‘whenua’, which means land. According to Maori beliefs, ‘te whenua’ (the land) nourishes the people, just as the ‘whenua’ (placenta) of the woman does. As part of their tradition, the Maori bury the baby’s ‘whenua’ and ‘pito’ (umbilical cord) on the ‘marae’, which is their tribal land. Returning the placenta or whenua to Papatuanuku (Mother Earth) after birth establishes a personal, spiritual, symbolic, and sacred link between the land and the child.
  6. In Navajo culture, burying a child’s placenta within the four sacred corners of the reservation ensures that they will always be connected to the land and will return home.
  7. Similarly, in Cambodia, children are believed to be safe as long as they stay close to where their placentas are buried.
  8. Other placental rituals recognize and honor the connection between the baby and the placenta. In some cultures, the placenta is referred to as the child’s sibling or twin. For instance, in Nepal, the placenta is known as bucha-co-satthi, which means the baby’s friend. Similarly, in Malaysia, when a baby smiles unexpectedly, it is believed that he or she is playing with the older sibling, the placenta.
  9. The Ibo people of Nigeria and Ghana treat the placenta as the baby’s deceased twin and perform full burial rites for it.
  10. The placenta is sometimes associated with power and magic. In ancient Egypt, a pharaoh’s actual placenta was carried in procession on the end of a pole. Many symbols of leadership and status are derived from birth. For example, the crowning of a monarch may be derived from ‘crowning at birth.’ The caduceus, the wand of Hippocrates entwined by two snakes and the symbol of the medical profession, is derived from the triple-vesseled umbilicus.
  11. The Hmong, a hill tribe from Laos, believe that being born in a caul indicates that the child was a monarch in a previous life. The caul is considered a sign of prosperity in this life and is traditionally dried and given to the child when they are older.
  12. In traditional Ukrainian culture, midwives would use the newborn placenta to predict how many more children the mother would have. The placenta was traditionally buried in a location where it would not be stepped over. For instance, if it were buried under the doorway, the mother would become infertile.
  13. In Japan, however, a childless woman who desired pregnancy would borrow the petticoat of a pregnant friend and deliberately step over a baby’s newly buried placenta. In Transylvania, a couple who desired no more children would burn their baby’s placenta and mix it with ashes. The husband would then drink this to render himself infertile.
  14. The placenta is revered and considered sacred because it accompanies the child from the womb or spirit world.
  15. According to Hmong tradition, it must also accompany the person back to the spirit world after death. The deceased must travel back to every place they have lived until they reach the burial ground of their placenta. According to Hmong tradition, the soul can only travel on to be reunited with the ancestors and reincarnated in the soul of a new baby when clothed in its placental ‘jacket’ (the Hmong word for placenta also means jacket). If the soul cannot find its placental jacket, it will be condemned to wander forever naked and alone.
  16. For further information on placental lore, refer to Anand Khushi’s ‘The Placenta and Cord in Other Cultures’ in Shivam Rachana’s Lotus Birth (Yarra Glen, Australia: Greenwood Press, 2000): 53-60.


  1. Some of the information in this sidebar is based on anthropological reports. However, it is important to note that many of these reports were recorded by observers who may not have been privy to ‘women’s business’ or fully understood the processes described. Even those reports that are technically accurate are simplified versions of rich and complex systems.
  2. I. Eisenbruch, “The Cry for the Lost Placenta: Cultural Bereavement and Cultural Survival Among Cambodians Who Resettled, Were Repatriated, or Who Stayed at Home,” in Home Is Where the Heart Is: The Psychological Aspects of Permanent and Temporary Geographical Moves, M. van Tilburg and A. Vingerhoets., eds. (Tilburg, The Netherlands: Tilburg University Press, 1997): 119–142.
  3. R. Turecky, “Lessons from One of the Last Tica Midwives,” Midwifery Today 65 (Spring 2003): 57.
  4. Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, “Traditions to Do with Birth (2004).
  5.  J. Quintner, “Taking the Cake,” Medical Observer (Australia) (26 November 1999): 65.
  6. Ministry of Justice New Zealand, He Hinatore ki te Ao Maori: A Glimpse into the Maori World: Maori Perspectives on Justice (Wellington, NZ: Crown Copyright, 2001).
  7. P. Guthrie, “Many Cultures Revere Placenta, By-product of Childbirth,” Cox News Service (July 1999).
  8. See Note 2.
  9. C. Dunham and The Body Shop Team, Mamatoto: A Celebration of Birth (London: Virago Press, 1991): 108.
  10. See Note 7.
  11. L. DeMause, Foundations of Psychohistory (New York: Creative Roots, 1982): 289. In: E. Noble, Primal Connections: How Our Experiences from Conception to Birth Influence Our Emotions, Behavior and Health (New York: Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1993): 83.
  12. P. L. Rice, My Forty Days (Melbourne, Australia: Centre for the Study of Mothers’ and Children’s Health, 1993): 26–27.
  13. O. Boryak, “The Midwife in Traditional Ukrainian Culture: Ritual, Folklore and Mythology,” Midwifery Today 65 (Spring 2003): 53.
  14. See Note 5.
  15. S. Kitzinger, Ourselves as Mothers (London: Doubleday, 1992): 113.
  16. A. Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998).