Friday, April 15, 2011

Placenta Prints: A Tutorial

Tree of life.
A lot of people act rather funny upon hearing the word "placenta".  Very few people really even know what they look like...much less seen one in real life.  I have a child, but I hadn't seen a real one in person til this past week when I did a placenta print for my good friend Amanda.  I have no clue what happened to mine....I'm sure it was destroyed soon after my daughter's birth.  I wish I'd thought to keep it, but I didn't know what I know now about them.

With Oscar's upcoming birth I really wanted a keepsake of some sort.  Many families choose to bury their child's placenta under a tree...which is a wonderful idea, but we do not own a home or yard I need to keep my placenta for other things.  I'm unsure where I originally heard about making a print with it, but the photos I have seen online were beautiful.  I recently got to see one in person in my midwife's office which was done to look like a tree. 

However, when looking for information on the actual HOW of doing it....I came up a bit short.  I found a few posts about it, but nothing particularly detailed.  One of the biggest frustrations I had was the lack of information about what supplies I would need for this project...particularly when it came to the paint/ink....which is probably the most dire part of the whole thing....besides the actual placenta itself!

In a lot of ways, I had to wing it.  Fortunately Amanda was 8 weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy so I had a great opportunity to practice.  This past Saturday we headed to the craft store for paint and paper because I just knew if I didn't get it then she'd end up having the baby and I'd miss my chance.....she had the baby at noon the next day.


Firstly, you will need to gather these supplies ahead of time:
 - Heavy Art Paper (acid-free)
Watercolour paper is a good choice.  Large sheets are available at most craft stores and can be cut in half.  We chose a mid-range sheet that went for $5.  Art Cardstock is another good option.  It comes in a variety of colors and was only $3 a sheet...which was also large enough to cut in half and get 2 prints out of.
Matt board and artist canvas would also work well, but we didn't go that route this time.  We did use a hand-dyed issue that was REALLY pretty, but not the easiest to work with.  If you get anything fancy like that, I don't recommend that it be the ONLY paper you have.  All in all, we had enough paper cut to do 7 prints (2 sheets of watercolour paper, 1 sheet cardstock, and 1 sheet of the tissue all cut in half)
 - Paint or ink
WATERBASED and NON-TOXIC is a MUST...particularly if you plan to ingest the placenta later.  Some tutorials recommend stamp pads, but we opted to use good-ol' acrylic craft paint.  You really can't go wrong at $1 a you can find almost any color you could possibly want.
 - Brushes/roller
I preferred the cheap foam brushes to the mini-roller, but the roller was nice for an all-over one-color application of paint.  Small foam brushes were nice for doing different colors and parts of the tree style print.  Get don't want to take a lot of time rinsing out the brush again and again to change it's nice to just throw them away when you're done being as we ARE working with essentially a piece of raw meat.
 - Large Clipboard or piece of cardboard

The easiest way to do this and get a good even print, in my opinion is to attach your paper to a stiff board.  I happened to have large artist clipboards, but cardboard or some other large flat stiff piece of whatever would work just as well (perhaps a shelf out of a cabinet or a large kitchen tray)
 - Masking tape to attach paper to the printing board
 - Paper plates, bowls, or old meat trays for mixing paint
 - Gloves to use when rinsing/handling the placenta
 - Old towels you don't care about possibly staining
 - A clean dish pan, pot, roasting pan, bowl for rinsing/holding the placenta
 - Paper Towels in case of spills, messes, etc.
 - A good friend to assist you, take photos, or hand you stuff when your hands are less than clean.
 - And of course....a placenta.

Note - It's best to do the printing as soon after birth as possible....particularly in the first hour or two.  Obviously this means that the mother is probably not going to be up for this...which is why it's best to have a friend do this for you if you're the one having the baby.  The other option is freezing the placenta and making prints immediately after thawing at a later date.  I've heard people have had good luck with this method, but the sooner the better to get a good print out of it.  Also keep in mind that the first prints are the do the type of print you like best first to up your chances of getting something your really love.


Get everything ready before you start working

You'll want a clean, dry, and flat space to work.  We set up on my dining room table and laid out an old towel that I'd folded in half.  Also think about where the wet prints will be laid to dry...or at least while you're working.

Note - If you have pets: PUT THEM AWAY NOW.  My cat was VERY interested in this whole process...not helpful.


 This is a placenta.

This is a placenta after being rinsed well.  Not so scary, huh?  I rinsed it several times (though try not to deflate the veins.  They're part of what makes it pretty.) and then laid it out on the towel with the
membrane side and cord up. 

Put paint on your plate or tray so there's no worries of getting anything icky in the containers (I'd like to use these again of course).  Having something to put the paint on is also helpful if you're mixing colors or want to water the paint down at all.

I found that brushing on the paint worked the best.  By the way, once the placenta is laid out you really don't need to come in contact with it, so now is an okay time to take your gloves off.

Rolling is a good option for a one color print.  The mini roller that came with 2 disposable rolls was only $3.

Using a stiff board to attach the paper too was EXTREMELY helpful.  It helped get a nice even print.  Tape each corner and along the sides of the paper.  You don't want it to droop.

The placenta stays put and you bring the paper to be printed down on top of it.  MUCH easier than trying to flop the placenta down on the paper...which would be a major fail most likely....and a mess.  Once the board is down, rub gently over the back of it to make sure everything printed evenly.

Slowly and carefully lift it back up.  Don't be surprised if the membrane tries to bubble up or something tries to stick.  I often had to pull the cord off the paper with my fingers.

Another option is to just lay the paper itself on top of the placenta and rub directly on the back of the paper...but I MUCH preferred the results when the paper was attached to a board first.  Much more even prints were achieved with the first method.

The first application we did was the "traditional" tree of life style.  For this I HIGHLY recommend getting multiple colors for the foliage (and maybe even the trunk if you want to get really detailed with it).  I really loved a fall version that I had seen online, but that didn't seem appropriate for a spring baby.  Keep the season in mind!  Had I realize the baby would have been here so soon I would have also done a tree of pink, white, and lavender being as SO many trees are currently flowering.  However, the multiple greens turned out wonderfully!

This was the first, and best print on white watercolour paper.

This is the all-over purple print applied with the roller.  Much more placenta looking than the tree!

This was a dark brown that I watered down a bit and applied with a large foam brush.

This was the dark brown print on the funky dyed paper.  It wasn't my favorite print, but the paper looked neat with it.

This one was one that was paper pressed without the aid of the board. 

Here are all the prints hanging in my laundry room.

As soon as you're done get the placenta back in the dishpan and rinse off all the paint.  I then removed a lot more of the blood trapped in the veins and removed the membrane so that they meaty part of the placenta could be frozen flat and later cut into pill-sized bits.

Yes, that's a pizza pan of placenta on top of my birthday cake. lol


This was a really easy and fun project.  I was extremely nervous at first!  But having a supportive friend there made the process a lot easier even though neither of us had ever done such a thing before!

The key is planning.  You want to have this stuff ready to go BEFORE the birth if you can manage it.  Choose some different papers and paint colors so you have options.  Start with your favorite first to ensure that print comes out the best.  For my birth in June my friend Amanda whose placenta was used here will be doing the prints of mine...and I'd really like to have the stuff for her to do a rainbow print as well as the tree. I highly recommend getting at least 3 "leaf" colors if you do the tree print as well as a color for the trunk.  Keep in mind the cord on this placenta was cut really short so you might have more to work with with a different one.  Also keep in mind that this isn't JUST for vaginal homebirth!  Amanda had a c-section in a hospital, but all you have to do is ask them for the placenta.  They place it in a sealed container and I was able to pick it up without issue and do the prints at home.  It you have to pick it up from the hospital, though, try to take along a cooler and some icepacks to keep it fresh.

Also, don't let the gross-out factor keep you from considering this project!  It's really not that gross.  The placenta, once rinsed, is really not disgusting...just very interesting.  And once you hang the print on your wall it's unlikely for guest to have any idea what it is until you tell them....they'll just see a pretty tree!  So if you're trying to hide your hippie-side...this won't out you. :)


  1. I think the top pic (tree with green foliage) is the nicest placenta print I've ever seen! Great work!

    You didn't mention how fast you worked. Since the placenta was going to be encapsulated - I assume, since you mention pill-sized bits - how soon did you need to do this, and how quickly, so that the placenta was kept fresh enough for ingestion later?

  2. With this one, the baby was born around 12:30 and we did the prints by 2. It probably only took 45 minutes to an hour to do everything and clean up. It goes really quick!

    We aren't encapsulating due to cost, just freezing flat and cutting into pill-sized bits to be taken while still frozen. Similarly to iron supplementation with frozen beef liver.