1. "WHAT ARE YOU, CRAZY? Why would anyone eat their placenta?"
During pregnancy, the placenta actually becomes an endocrine organ as it starts producing many hormones that help us cope with the pain and stress of pregnancy and childbirth. Estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and cortisol levels rise steeply with placental production- with some increasing by 1,000 fold at the end of a full term pregnancy! So what happens when the placenta is delivered right after the birth of your baby? Within three to five days those hormone levels drop back to pre-pregnancy levels, leaving new moms with low levels of stress-coping and pain-relieving hormones while the brain figures out how and when to keep up with production.
Consumption of the placenta can help replenish these vital hormones along with opioids and nutrients including proteins, iron, vitamin B6, oxytocin and corticotropin-releasing hormone.
Women who consume their placenta report:
2. "Ok, but that’s just plain gross!"
I get it. Imaginations can run wild at the mention of eating your placenta. I get lots of weird/ disgusted/ confused looks when I tell people what I do, followed by comments about a family dinner of placenta loaf. Although some people do choose to eat their placenta that way, you certainly don’t have to! Encapsulation is a wonderful method for ingestion if you’re a little (or a lot) weirded out by the whole thing. I take the ick- factor out of the process by transporting your placenta for you, preparing it in my space and delivering the finished product back to you in totally palatable pill form.
3. "But isn't all the good stuff cooked out?"
Nope! Just like how your meats and veggies at dinner still retain vital nutrients after cooking, so does the placenta when it’s steamed and dehydrated. Humans have been consuming organ meats for centuries (liver, kidneys, etc), because they are so nutrient dense and cooking foods before consuming them typically helps us better digest them as well. Removing water from foods via dehydration is a practice that’s been used for centuries as a way to preserve foods and maintain their beneficial nutrients.
4. "Is that considered cannibalism?"
Unless you removed a placenta straight from your enemy after winning a battle and are consuming it ceremoniously, or are desperately eating your ship-wrecked neighbor’s placenta after months of being lost on a desert island, then no, placenta encapsulation is not cannibalism. Cannibalism is “the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings.” Placentophagy is the act of consuming human placenta postpartum… in this case- your placenta!
5. "But I’m a vegetarian /vegan!"
Although it may seem counterintuitive to eat your placenta when you normally abstain from meat, the placenta is like no other meat you’ve ever encountered! Placenta is the only meat taken without violence- no animal suffered or died for it and it is unequivocally associated with health, life and birth. Even herbivorous mammals consume their placentas afternbirth!
6. "But animals only eat their placenta to clear the birth site."
You’ve probably heard that most mammals eat their placenta immediately following birth. You may have also heard that animals only do this to clear the birth site and avoid attracting predators or because they’re hungry after birth and the placenta is readily available nutrients. However, these theories don’t’ stand up to analysis because they are true in only a subset of mammals, while placentophagy is almost universal.
7. " Doesn't the placenta hold on to a bunch of toxins and waste?"
The placenta is a life-sustaining organ and part of a detailed filtering system that works to prevent most harmful substances from making it to the baby in utero. When the placenta filters out environmental toxins or waste, they’re then passed on to the mother to remove and filter through her organs- they are not just stored indefinitely in the placenta! Some heavy metals that are found in cigarettes can be stored in the placenta, so heavy smokers might take this into consideration before moving forward with encapsulation.
8. "I heard that the hospital won’t release my placenta or that it's an ordeal to get it released."
Until 2016, it was true that you had to have either a court order or have a funeral director available for the hospital to release your placenta (yes, totally crazy, I agree). With HB 1670 in effect, placenta release is now fairly easy! If you’re delivering at St. David’s, you simply sign a waiver at admission and your placenta is released without any holds and if you're at Seton, they still hold placentas for 72 hours. But don’t worry, I coordinate pickup so you don’t have to worry about it storing and transporting after your baby is born! After signing up for encapsulation services, I send you an easy and personalized checklist that walks you through every step of the process for your specific birth place.
9. "Is it true that encapsulation can help with breastfeeding? "
For over 1,400 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been prescribing placenta for increased milk production following childbirth.
In one study of women who were given either their placenta to consume post birth or a placebo of beef (both freeze dried and given in the same dose), most who consumed their placenta had a marked increase in lactation. The participating women already expected to have a difficult time breastfeeding due to low milk production after previous births or flat/ inverted nipples, but over 85% of those who ate their placenta reported good or very good results with an increase in milk supply, breast size and tenderness, and milk that flowed on its own. A similar study with rats shows increased milk supply after placenta consumption due to orally-active substance that may modify blood levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones.
10. "I can’t encapsulate- I had pitocin/ epidural/ cesarean/ antibiotics/ etc."
.Fortunately, that’s just not true! Pitocin, epidural anesthesia and antibiotics are incredibly common in births these days and have no noticeable effects on placenta capsules. Most medications are broken down and leave the system relatively quickly so they won’t be stored in the placenta (remember #7?). A substance would also have to survive the cleaning, steaming and dehydration process to make it into your capsules.
Beacock, Michelle. “Does Eating Placenta Offer Postpartum Health Benefits?” British Journal of Midwifery.
Bodnar, Lisa, PhD, MPH, RD. “Have We Forgotten the Significant of Postpartum Iron Deficiency?” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Volume 193. 2005.
Fertil, J Reprod. “Effects of Placentophagy on Serum Prolactin and Progesterone Concentration in Rats After Parturition of Superovulation.” November 1980.
Hendrick, Victoria, MD. “Hormonal Changes in the Postpartum and Implications for Postpartum Depression.” Psychosomatics. Volume 39 #2. March/ April 1998.
Mercola, Joseph, OP. “The Health Benefits of Consuming Organ Meats.” Mercola.com. December 2013.
Schramel, P. “Selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury concentrations in human breast milk, in placenta, maternal blood, and the blood of the newborn.” Biological Trace Element Research. Volume 15, Issue 1. January 1998.
Soykova- Pachnerova, E. “Placenta as a Lactagogon.” 1954.
Not too many things can compete with having a baby- in excitement or workload. Luckily, a little bit of forethought can go a long way in way preparing for a smooth transition from pregnancy to the sacred weeks following birth. Be sure to scroll down and check out the first half of my six tips for a happier and healthier postpartum period if you haven't yet!
4) Eat Your Placenta
Placenta encapsulation isn't just for hippies anymore. In fact, all but a handful of mammals instinctively consume their placenta after giving birth and this practice is becoming more mainstream with modern women. During pregnancy the placenta becomes a primary endocrine organ, taking over production of many reproductive hormones. These hormone levels are 20-30% higher than normal during this time! After birth estrogen, progesterone, endorphins, and other hormones, along with thyroid levels, drop immediately, causing a significant physical and emotional crash in new moms- also known as the "baby blues."
Luckily, encapsulation is an easy, no-mess way to consume your placenta and smooth the transition into motherhood... No yuck required! Women who consume their placenta consistently report benefits that including fewer hormonal swings, increased energy and milk supply, a decrease pain, less bleeding and an overall improved sense of well being- all from materials produced by your own body and processed into simple capsule form.
5) Adjust Your Expectations
This may be one of the most difficult steps in preparing for your postpartum because it can't be bought, scheduled or eaten, but adjusting your expectations for reality with a newborn may be an important step in your journey. Just like how TV and movies don't accurately portray childbirth (shocking, I know), they certainly don't portray the postpartum time either. Sometimes mothering comes naturally, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes breastfeeding comes naturally, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you go for what seems like literally days without sleep, you partner doesn't seem to be holding up their end of the parenting deal, you look six months pregnant four weeks after giving birth and there's a bird nesting in your hair. Sometimes babies have difficulty latching and formula supplementation is appropriate. Sometimes you're crying and bleeding, feel like you've lost your whole identity and don't know how to keep your well- meaning, but exhausting mother-in-law at bay.
I am by no means trying to spread horror stories or scare you. I am saying that parenthood is unpredictable, beautiful, messy, exhausting and amazing. It's the hardest f@#*ing work you'll ever do. Be flexible, be open to a change in plans and remember that there is no perfect in the parenting game.
6) Stay Well Fed and Hydrated
This one sounds simple, but hunger and dehydration can sneak up on you when all your attention goes directly to your precious (and very demanding) newborn. While you may not be sitting down for three homecooked meals a day, it's still important to get an additional 500ish calories a day when breastfeeding.
So what's a new mom to do when you don't have the time, energy or free hands to hang out in the kitceh all day?
Seriously, being a new parent is hard. Ask for help, accept help, be flexible and take some time for self-care. If feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, depression, weepiness or anxiety persist for more than a couple of weeks postpartum, talk to your care provider, connect with others online at Postpartum Progress or The New Mama Project or check out these local resources.
Hibbert, Christina. "Postpartum Mood Disorders: An Informational Guide For Couples". Psychology Today.
Le Leche League
Do you have dreams of a magical Baby Moon when you'll do nothing but glow from oxytocin and stare longingly into your new babe's eyes? While planning for your ideal birth, it's just as important to plan for the period afterwards. Birth is like the wedding day and the postpartum period (and beyond) is like a marriage... more dirty work and significantly less glamorous. When you're pregnant with your first child it can be difficult (almost impossible!) to imagine that life with your new baby could be anything but perfect. We like to think that our love for our children is enough to get us smoothly through the trials of early parenthood, but that's not always the case. The combination of hormonal fluctuations, exhaustion, social isolation, and financial stress can push even the most prepared parent into a serious mood disorder.
Did you know that....
Though the baby blues and mood disorders can't always be avoided, there are certain steps you can take to lessen your chances and prepare for the beautiful postpartum period you imagine and deserve.
1) Practice Lying-In
Basically, America does postpartum WRONG! Here we're expected to birth a baby, go grocery shopping, clean the house and prepare dinner for visiting and doting relatives. In reality, that's a great way to pass a blood clot the size of a lemon, exhaust yourself and miss out on some serious bonding with your newest addition. Other cultures practice 30-40 days of "lying-in". This is where you and baby hang out in bed while family and friends take care of housework, older siblings and meal prep, allowing for faster healing, the opportunity to process the majorly transformative event that is childbirth and learn the quirks and challenges of feeding your new little one. Lying in is important for all new mothers, but is especially vital for mothers who birthed by cesarean section!
Not sure you can manage your household from the horizontal position? That's when it's time to call in some extra hands....
2) Say "Yes" to Help
Now is not the time to be a hero. When they say "it takes a village", trust them. After giving birth, you need help. Sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little. Good thing almost everyone wants to help when there's a new baby involved. Mothers, mothers' friends, mothers-in-law, sisters, neighbors, church ladies, aunts, strangers at Central Market... they all want to help. Take them up on it.
So when someone asks, "What can I do to help?", give them an answer! Here's a few ideas of what to ask for if you're unsure of what you'll need.
3) Get a Massage
No matter how you birth or feed your baby, your body will likely ache. Massage in the newly postpartum period is less of a luxury and more of a step towards homeostasis. The normal anxieties of parenting, plus waking up every two hours to feed a creature who's completely dependent on you, can wreak serious havoc on your nervous system and throw you into a fight or flight response that's hard to shake and you just can't think your way out of. Massage is a lovely and gentle way to coax your body back into relaxation and say "Yes, this is okay. I'm okay. My body can feel good again. I can recover". Massage helps your whole body take a breath and slip back into the relaxing parasympathetic nervous system that encourages faster healing, allowing you to be more present for yourself and your baby.
Not sure how massage works when you're leaking from just about everywhere and you can't imagine getting in the car or being away from your baby for more than 20 minutes? I take care of all of that and come to you! I love working with new moms who aren't quite sure what to do with their newly postpartum bodies. We set up the massage table in your home and get you comfortable. Baby is nearby with dad or grandma and can stop in to nurse as needed. No worries if baby needs to be close the whole time, as he or she can lie with you on the table and you can both be blissed out from a healing and recuperative massage.
Like what you've read so far? Stay tuned for three more practical and simple tips for a healthier and happier postpartum period!
Beyond the "Baby Blues". Harvard Mental Health Letter. September 2011.
M. Diego. Moderate pressure massage elicits a parasympathetic nervous system response. PubMed.gov. 2009.
Canadian Mental Health Association
I'm Colleen. Mommma. Birth, breastfeeding, pregnancy, placenta lover. Sleep Deprived.