The Message Behind This Viral Newborn and Placenta Photo

It's not just a unique photo idea—it's an ancient cultural tradition.
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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
Dec 2020
Newborn next to placenta with umbilical cord attached
Photo: Emma Jean Photography via Facebook

There’s lots of, well, alternative things you can do with your placenta. You can save it and turn it into jewelry. You can cut it up and turn it into pill form, eating it for the supposed postnatal health benefits, Kourtney Kardashian style. (But you probably shouldn’t.) But rarely do we see it photographed. And that’s why this newborn photo is turning heads.

With the help of baby Harper, UK midwife-turned-photographer Emma Jean Nolan is highlighting an ancient Maori tradition: burying the placenta. The Maoris, indigenous to New Zealand, bury the placenta after baby is born, signifying their respect for the earth, which, like the organ, provides nourishment. She explains on Facebook:

“As a Maori baby his placenta will now be returned to the land. The word ‘whenua’ relates to the placenta and to the land. Whenua (placenta) is returned to the whenua (land) with the pito (umbilical cord) the link between the newborn and papatuanuku (mother earth). With this affinity established, each individual fulfils the role of curator, for papatuanuku (mother earth), which remains life long.”

Nolan had wanted to photograph an image like this for quite some time, but was waiting for a baby with an umbilical cord long enough. Sure enough, Harper’s cord lent itself perfectly to the word ‘love.’

This is just one of many unique cultural traditions parents practice worldwide. Check out more in our Motherhood Around The World series.

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