Once the midwife or HCP has examined the placenta to make sure it is complete, it is yours. However, some hospitals will automatically throw it and the umbilical cord away as medical waste, so it's wise to advise your HCP if you wish to keep it.
Cord Blood Banking
Banking the baby's cord and placental blood in order to save it for future medical emergencies is a decision that needs to be made ahead of time. Usually blood is taken from the placenta as well as the umbilical cord; after this, the placenta may still be kept and used in other ways.
Placentaphagy (Eating the Placenta)
While most women might find this a stomach-churning option, there is legitimate science behind consuming the placenta. Placentas are immensely rich in vitamins and hormones which ease the postpartum period. Oxytocin is a 'happy hormone' which encourages bonding in the mother, and helps stimulate uterine contractions and prevent post-partum haemmorhage (in fact, one old-time remedy for PPH is to quickly give the mother a bite of placenta). Placentas are also rich in zinc, the 'mothering vitamin', which helps women bond with their babies. Research has shown that nearly all herbivorous mammals consume their placentas. First-time animal mothers often neglect to do this, and it has been suggested that their lack of maternal instincts is related to the lack of mothering hormones and vitamins contained in the placenta.
Most placentaphages eat their placentas to avoid post-partum depression, with great anecdotal success. Recipes can be found online for consuming the placenta raw (smoothies are a popular option), cooked in stews or stir-fries, or for the less strong-stomached, dried, ground and capsulised. Capsulised placenta lasts indefinitely, and some women have found it so effective they save some capsules to treat bouts of regular (non-pregnancy-related) depression.
Placentas can also be made into a tincture.
Making Placenta Prints
Using ink, some women like to commemorate the placenta by making a print on paper. These prints often accompany ultrasound pictures and the baby's first hand- and foot-prints as a visual record of the pregnancy and birth.
Planting the Placenta
Rich in hormones, placentas make things bloom! One lovely ritual involves planting the placenta underneath a special tree which represents the child. Families who move house frequently sometimes plant a small tree in a large pot. This ritual can take place soon after the child's birth, or delayed (freezing the placenta meanwhile) until the child is old enough to participate. It is important to plant the placenta deeply enough that it does not touch the roots of the plant, otherwise the strength of the hormones may 'burn' and kill the tree. In Maori culture, returning the placenta to the land symbolises the relationship between the child and the land (in fact the same word, whenua, is used for both 'land' and 'placenta').
Placentas After Lotus Birth
A lotus birth, in which the placenta and umbilical cord remain attached to the baby until they fall off, means the placenta is unrefrigerated for up to two weeks. Lotus birthers traditionally pack salt around the placenta to prevent it decaying during this time: however, after it has fallen off the placenta should be treated as unsafe meat and not consumed.