Earlier this week I came clean about my disconnected relationship with the placenta, or the “afterbirth.” Since it’s my job to deal with all things after birth, I’ve embarked on a mini-mission to get better acquainted with the placenta, and furthermore, decide whether or not the organ itself might be of some use to my clients.
Placentophagy, or the eating of one’s placenta. Let’s sort it out, shall we?
I’ve been wary, I’ve been shy. I’ve been curious, but relatively uninformed, considering my profession. But this little doula can’t ignore the idea of placenta ingestion any longer. There’s an increasing buzz about the benefits, and when you delve into what those benefits include, the slightly unorthodox practice seems pretty darn desirable.
Almost every mammal—save seafaring breeds, camels, and the majority of Western humans—eats their placenta after the birth. We all—sort of—have an awareness of that…right?
Alternative, natural healing supporters in the Western world have also dabbled in the practice—but this group is a minority within their own minority.
But now, with the increased popularity of placenta encapsulation (drying it out and turning it into pills), this fleshy “Tree of Life” is becoming more user-friendly. The idea is that this nutrient rich organ, still chock full of the hormones of pregnancy, can help replenish and recharge a new mom in her postpartum recovery and overwhelming transition. Rich in iron, B-vitamins, and many other nutrients, the organ that helped to sustain your baby’s life is thought to be ‘pregnant’ with possibility in the days, weeks, and months after birth.
After a mother has exerted herself in pregnancy and labor, it does make sense that she would need an energy boost from naturally derived vitamins. Iron could help with any depletion suffered from blood loss. Some doctors in mild opposition of placentophagy argue that wild animals eat the placenta in an instinctive fit of resourcefulness—they do, after all, hunt and gather their own food. This same crowd would say that a modern woman, with access to a variety of nutrient-rich foods, does not need the placenta. She can go to the grocery store; she can take a multivitamin.
Placentophagists would argue that while the vitamins and nutrients are potent and perhaps even unparalleled, there’s more to the practice of ingesting the after birth than basic nutrition.
The placenta—once the regulator, labor initiator, and instinct manager of pregnancy—is said to be still overflowing with hormones. Taking in a meal of placenta, or taking it slowly over time in pill form, is said to keep a woman even, thus avoiding the hormonal drop which is one of the many things that lead to baby blues and other postpartum mood disorders.
But wait, there’s more! The extra boost of oxytocin is said to aid in milk supply, and the placental leftover prostoalandin is supposed to aid in involution, or the shrinking of the uterus. Milk production, involution, and mood management! Music to a postpartum doula’s ears. But I have to wonder—is it too good to be true?
Unfortunately, like many ‘off-beat’ yet possibly life-changing practices, very little research has been done on the subject. Minimal studies in rats showed that ingested placenta acted as a mild analgesic and another study concluded that when a placenta is taken from an animal in a cage, it becomes withdrawn and disinterested in its young. Of course, the Chinese have been preparing dried placenta for centuries, but we don’t have much scientific data to back the custom here in the U.S.
That’s a shame, I’d like to know more, but I also kind of want to say, “So what?”
Pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood are natural events and if ingesting placenta helps moms—and I’ve read dozens of testimonials that lead me to believe it does—I don’t really need a scientific study to tell me what’s what. While I’m not ready to shout, “Eat your placenta!” from the rooftops, I’m not going to call the practice pointless. Clearly, it does the trick for many women. I just haven’t seen it first hand…yet.
A birth doula friend of mine recently made a placenta smoothie for a client. It was your traditional power drink made with juice, yogurt, frozen berries—and oh yeah…placenta. The woman who drank it said it was the best thing she ever tasted. After sucking the whole thing down, she felt incredible—energized, happy, and strong.
I must confess that upon hearing this, I sort of started craving a placenta smoothie. I even imagined how it would taste—both sweet and salty, both strange and familiar, and honestly, a little bloody.
And then I had a moment of misgiving about my own placenta disposal—frozen, on garbage day, to avoid the parade of dogs. Had I missed my big chance? Would my hormonal make-up forever suffer inadequacy?
You see, some women freeze their capsules in hopes of enjoying a lifetime of placenta pick me up. Late depression after weaning? Get out the placenta pills. Menopause, you say? Well, these little things will work!
In preparation for writing this blog post, and after secretly fantasizing about a placenta smoothie, I actually Googled something along the lines of, “Placenta pills for sale.” Driven by curiosity, a mean case of PMS, and these really wonky hormones that are a direct result of my work as a postpartum caregiver (more on that later), I was seriously considering purchasing someone else’s placenta—on the black market, if necessary.
I’m kidding…sort of. What I really wanted to know is whether or not there was something I could offer a woman who had discarded her placenta, but wanted to experience the benefits of placentophagy.
Turns out there are a lot of sheep placenta pills for sale, and if you dare me to, I might take one. At any rate, I’m opening my mind to the possibilities of the placenta. And while I have a strong practice of not pushing my own beliefs or new ideas on a client (especially those that fall too predictably under the hemp-stitched banner of doula), I will definitely be armed with more information if she asks. And, I think I feel confident enough in the harmlessness-to-potential-benefit ratio to add it to my list of “ways women deal with postpartum depression.”
Until then, more curiosity and research and yeah—a little bit of reverence for the body’s only temporary-by-design organ.
Still with me? Can we talk about this? Can you help me learn more?
What do you think of placentophagy and placenta encapsulation? Would you try it? Have you tried it? Is it old-wives’ tale, stroke of genius, or a mix of both? Any funny or interesting placenta tales to share? Do tell.