Often considered the “soul-twin” of your baby, the placenta plays an essential role in the beginnings of new life. The placenta literally connects you to your baby throughout pregnancy and birth. Your placenta is one-of-a-kind, and with only one chance to honor it, having your placenta professionally prepared for your benefit is a smart option.
New parents who ingest their placentas in capsule form report fewer emotional issues, have more energy, and tend to enjoy a more pleasant postpartum recovery. I have served nearly one hundred parents in the past few years with placenta encapsulation services, and these parents describe feelings of “buoyancy, calm, and happiness,” like their “nerves are coated,” and having “bursts of energy.” Most people say they can feel the effects of the placenta within the first half hour of taking their capsules. Parents who have had previous babies without the benefits of placenta ingestion describe the difference as “night and day,” while first-time parents who do not have a basis for comparison often describe their postpartum with a feeling of general well-being. Some people I have worked with who have had traumatic births say that the capsules help ease the overall stress of an already challenging time. You can reap the benefits of placenta encapsulation whether you have a homebirth or hospital birth.
During pregnancy, the placenta acts as the main endocrine organ for the entire body, taking over the majority of hormone production and regulation (when not pregnant, this is largely the role of the hypothalamus). During the third trimester, hormone production triples, and during labor another surge of hormones rushes through the placenta. After birth a kind of “hormonal vacancy” occurs. This makes sense, as it usually takes about two to three weeks for the hypothalamus and endocrine system to start producing and regulating hormones again. This critical time can set the tone for the “fourth trimester,” and additional support offered by consuming your placenta in capsule form helps make the transition much smoother.
Here is a list of some hormones and nutrients contained in the placenta which have healing properties:
- Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone: contributes to mammary gland development in preparation for lactation; stabilizes postpartum mood; regulates post-birth uterine cramping; decreases depression; normalizes and stimulates libido
- Prolactin: promotes lactation; increases milk supply; enhances parenting instincts
- Oxytocin: decreases pain; increases parent-infant bond; counteracts production of stress hormones (i.e. cortisol); reduces postpartum bleeding; enhances breastfeeding let-down reflex
- Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF): stimulates production of body’s natural opioids (i.e. endorphins); reduces pain; increases well-being
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH): regulates thyroid gland; boosts energy; supports recovery from stressful events
- Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH): low levels of CRH are implicated in postpartum depression; regulation of CRH helps prevent depression
- Cortisone: reduces inflammation and swelling; promotes healing
- Interferon: triggers protective defenses of the immune system to fight infection
- Prostaglandins: regulates contractions in the uterus after birth; helps uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size; contains anti-inflammatory effects
- Iron: replenishes iron stores to combat anemia, a common postpartum condition; increases energy; decreases fatigue and depression
- Hemoglobin: oxygen-carrying molecule which provides a boost in energy
- Urokinase Inhibiting Factor and Factor XIII: stops bleeding and enhances wound healing
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG): antibody molecules which support the immune system
- Human Placental Lactogen (hPL): lactogenic, growth-promoting properties; promotes mammary gland growth in preparation for lactation; regulates glucose, protein, and fat levels
The “Baby Blues” is a popular term used to describe the emotional roller coaster common to 80% of new birthing parents, which can sometimes turn into clinical postpartum depression (PPD). People who ingest their placenta in capsule form during the first few weeks postpartum report happier postpartum experiences and fewer instances of the “baby blues.” I have worked with many parents who have previously experienced PPD, had a history of depression, and/or experienced prenatal depression, and after ingesting placenta capsules postpartum, report positive results in avoiding the “baby blues” and subsequently PPD.
Research shows that placenta ingestion is helpful in significantly increasing milk supply. The placenta has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries to support milk production. From the TCM perspective, the placenta increases the parent’s chi and has a warming and tonifying affect on the system, which augments milk production. There has been some recent question among lactation support professionals as to whether the progesterone present in the placenta actually decreases milk supply. Progesterone from a retained placenta is known to inhibit milk supply. This is very different from progesterone taken in and assimilated through placenta ingestion. The method I use to prepare the placenta into capsule form is based on TCM techniques, and is known to increase milk supply. In my personal experience, the people who have had issues with milk supply in the past have experienced increased milk production with ingestion of placenta capsules.
All land mammals besides humans (and camels!) ingest their placentas following birth. There is a common misconception that mammals eat their placentas to “clean the nest site” as a means to keep safe from predators. Predatory animals, however, eat their placentas just as the prey animals do!
The German word for placenta is Mutterkuchen, translating to “mother cake.” The etymology of the word placenta has Latin roots meaning “flat cake.” If you were to look up a Roman recipe for placenta you would find a layered dessert made with honey, cheese, and pastry. Could it be that each year when our special day rolls around and we eat birthday cake, we are actually honoring the original birthday cake—the mother cake?
The birth of a new baby brings changes and challenges that parents cannot really understand until they are experiencing them. Even if you have an easy pregnancy, a smooth birth, plenty of material resources, and the world’s most supportive partner, a new baby is a huge adjustment! Any supportive measures to ensure optimal health and well-being of the postpartum transition will ripple out and affect everyone in the family!
If you are not comfortable with the idea of ingesting your placenta, you could choose to plant it. You do not have to look far to find cross-cultural stories of placenta planting rituals. Some may choose a fruit-bearing tree for the child to grow up with, or a tree in a special family location. Others may follow traditions from a particular cultural lineage. There are many ways to honor the placenta, and you can choose one that feels right to you and your family.
More Articles and Informational Links:
Why Mammals Consume Their Placentas
Scientific Research on Placentophagy
The Placenta’s Healing Substances
Using a Certified Placenta Encapsulation Specialist – Why Does it Matter?
Polly Wood, MFA, is a professional Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, helping new parents have healthier, happier postpartum recoveries. Polly is a member of the national network of specialists through Placenta Benefits, the leading resource for information, education, and cutting-edge research on placentophagy. Polly has served nearly one hundred families in this tender “fourth trimester” with placenta encapsulation services, and comes passionately to this work with fifteen years experience as a birth and postpartum doula, a birth activist/artist, and with graduate studies in women’s rites-of-passage. You can contact Polly and find more information about placenta encapsulation on her facebook page.
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