Afterbirths in the Afterlife: Cultural Meaning of Placental Disposal in a Hmong American Community

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Abstract

Interviews were conducted with 94 Hmong Americans in California's Central Valley to explore attitudes regarding placental disposition and the cultural values that affect those attitudes. Research indicated a persistence of the traditional belief that placentas should be buried at home. The placenta is perceived to be essential for travel by the soul of the deceased into the spirit world to rejoin ancestors. Older respondents (older than age 35) and those who self-identified as animists were most likely to believe in the importance of home placental burial. Comments by respondents indicated some reluctance on the part of Hmong patients to ask health care providers for permission to take placentas home. Incorporating non-Western patients'traditional health care practices into Western health care delivery may be facilitated by an awareness of the reluctance of some patients to verbalize their wishes.

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