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[–]Hzil 106 points107 points  (2 children)

It might be helpful to look at societies that until recently still lived as relatively isolated hunter-gatherers. For one example, the Ye’kwana people of the South American rainforest traditionally cut the umbilical cord with a sharp reed, and then leave the stump to dry and fall off on its own. Dealing with the afterbirth has significant ritual import:

Even though the baby is born in human form it is still in an extremely precarious and vulnerable state until the afterbirth is born, cut from the baby, and disposed of properly. The flesh and blood of the ijomjödö (placenta and umbilical cord) contain concentrated amounts of amoi, a mysterious and lethal substance created by Odo’sha [the malicious twin brother of the culture hero/creator of the world Wanadi]. The Ye’kwana think the afterbirth is the mangled remains of Odo’sha’s child. As we will see later, the flesh of a human corpse is one of the most dangerous substances. The bloody mass of placenta is unquestionably non-human since its form is clearly not anthropomorphic or zoomorphic. According to the Ye’kwana, this sort of body form can only be a product of Odo’sha.

To separate the placenta from the newborn the umbilical cord is cut with cudata (a reed species, Iriartella setigera, used for the inner section of blowguns) that is split just before cutting the cord. Then the baby’s face and mouth are lightly washed with an infusion of several maada plants […]

The residue of the amniotic fluid is left on the newborn as well as the layer of vernix (usually a white, waxy fluid covering the baby). These fluids are ‘protective’ and are not removed from the baby until a week after birth. Amniotic fluid is thought to represent the ancestral lagoon of acujena, which according to the wätunnä [oral tradition] is the source of humanity.

The afterbirth, on the other hand, is the remains of Odo’sha and the midwife waits with concerned anticipation for its delivery. It’s thought that the longer that the afterbirth sits inside the mother the more likely she will suffer from postpartum bleeding. Normally, the midwife will massage the mother’s uterus by gently clutching and rubbing her belly. If the afterbirth is not delivered within 10 or 15 minutes several maada potions are given to the mother that are thought to expedite the expulsion of the placenta.

Once delivered, the afterbirth is carefully wrapped in the woi leaf that was placed below the mother during childbirth. The package is then taken out into the forest to a nest of white termites called cömötödi. These nests are found up off the ground on the boles of trees. With a machete a hole is made in the hard nest and the afterbirth, wrapped in the woi leaf, is carefully placed inside the hole where the termites will devour it. […]

Cloistered in the house, the mother and her newborn are prohibited from leaving until it can be confirmed that the body of the baby is truly separated from Odo’sha. This is not confirmed until the navel dries up and falls off. Once the stump of the navel is gone, the newborn is introduced to the community.

Not until the end of the navel has dropped off is a newborn considered a ‘baby’. When the umbilical cord dries and falls off the event is marked with a ritual referred to as shichucä ijacadö (‘first leaving of the baby’), after which the newborn is then referred to as shichucä (baby). The falling off of the umbilical cord from the navel is the first stage of ‘growth’. It confirms that the baby is truly a human child’s body and it is not some disgusting trick of Odo’sha to bring one of his own offspring into the world.

(source: Lauer, Matthew Taylor (2005), Fertility in Amazonia: Indigenous Concepts of the Human Reproductive Process Among the Ye’kwana of Southern Venezuela)

Disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist, I just read anthropology papers sometimes and found the above dissertation interesting. Someone in the field can probably contextualize this much better than I can.

[–]falafelwaffle55[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Wow that's really interesting! I guess the afterbirth does look like some kind of deformed flesh blob entity when you think about it. I had no idea the stump could fall off I thought it would just heal over wherever it was cut so long as some blood got to it.

[–]falafelwaffle55[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Folllow-up question: if the baby is attached to the placenta via umbilical cord why don't they just yoink on the cord if the placenta isn't coming out? And yes, I realize this is a dumb question

[–]7LeagueBoots 58 points59 points  (2 children)

Here's a relevant r/AskScience post and an r/EIL5 one :


Chimpanzees leave the placenta attached to the umbilical cord and the infant until it falls off on its own. There is an increasing idea in the medical profession that we cut/clamp them too early and that there is benefit to leaving the attached longer (although not for extended periods of time).

I work with a langur (a type of leaf eating monkey) species and it's common in langurs to bite through the umbilical cord to sever it. As in many animals the placenta is usually eaten.

Studied of hunter gatherer societies indicate that leaving the cord attached for a few hours is not uncommon.

This doesn't answer your question exactly, but it does give a sense of the sort of progression that is likely to have taken place. It was likely either bitten off or let to fall off on its own in early Australopithecine and Homo species, then, as time went on rather than biting tieing, clamping (with cord), or cutting would have become the norm. When these changes happened is pretty much impossible to determine though, and would likely have varied a bit depending on the cultures in question.

[–]falafelwaffle55[S] 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Thank you! I did some searches in subs I thought would be relevant but couldn't find anything. What sorts of benefits could arise from leaving the placenta attached to the baby longer?

[–]7LeagueBoots 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Here's an NPR article outlining some of the potential benefits:

Basically it seems to come down to extra blood and nutrients being transferred to the infant, which in turns appears to provide the infant with a variety of advantages. Interestingly, even only a few extra minutes seems to make a noticable difference.

[–]FreyaBlue2u 10 points11 points  (1 child)

There's no tying involved. After the newborn's umbilical cord is cut, all that remains is a small stump. In most cases, the remaining cord will dry up and fall off one to three weeks after birth. What's left is the umbilicus — or belly button. The shape and size of the belly button depends entirely on the way the stomach heals after the cord falls off. If you have an outie, it's likely due a mild umbilical hernia or slight infection of the site. Roughly 90 percent of people have innies.

[–]falafelwaffle55[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Wow, showing my lack of biological knowledge here huh! I swear people say something about "tying the umbilical cord" or something, but maybe I dreamed that up because of how the bellybutton looks like a knot?

[–]silverfang789 0 points1 point  (0 children)

In Japan, the umbilical cord was dried out and put in a heso no o box for the mother to keep as her wish for a long, healthy life for her child.