There. I said it. Over the past almost 7 weeks, I have slowly ingested my placenta. Now before you get all freaked out, I do want to say that I had it professionally encapsulated so it’s not as if I’ve been biting off chunks of my frozen placenta or anything. Plus, it wouldn’t have withstood the move from Chicago anyway! I used a wonderful doula and midwife-in-training, Andrea Bukiewicz (The Barefoot Doula).
Let me back up and give you a little history about the placenta and why, for centuries, many cultures see this organ as an important life force which should not be disposed of as trash after the child is born. Placenta History is a great website that goes through various cultures’ traditions on virtually every continent. From the website:
The most popular placenta encapsulation process used widely around the world today is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) techniques, where the placenta is considered a powerful and sacred medicine – a ‘full of life force’ organ that should be consumed to support a healing mother after birth. Placenta remedies are an important part of birthing history. One of the first and greatest medical and pharmaceutical experts of China, Li Shi-Zhen, included placenta zi he chi as a medicine in his first TCM Materia Medica published in 1578.
There is scattered documentation of dried placenta prescribed as a remedy in Europe during the 1700’s however it wasn’t until the mid 80’s when Raven Lang, an American midwife who studied TCM, brought back this lost tradition by promoting placenta remedies during a MANA conference in America. Putting dried placenta powder into empty vegetable capsules, known as placenta encapsulation, has become very popular in recent years in America and Canada and is now available as a service in the UK and Europe.
Many of my parenting methods (cloth diapering, co-sleeping, babywearing & attachment parenting) are not new. They are the ways that parents have raised children for thousands of years and yet somehow in our culture, we’ve gone in the opposite direction. But that’s for another blog post… My point is, this is not something new. In fact, most mammals ingest their placenta after birth. Why are we so squeamish about it??
Andrea’s webpage explains the benefits of placenta encapsulation for both mother & child:
The placenta is amazing! It provides nourishment to, and eliminates waste from, the baby. The baby takes oxygen from its mama with the help of the placenta. The placenta secretes hormones that regulate and maintain pregnancy, as well as blocking many harmful substances that may reach the baby. The placenta has amazing capabilities during the postpartum period too. It contains your own natural hormones and is made perfectly for you. If reintroduced into your system, the placenta can heal, sustain, and strengthen.
Your baby’s placenta is believed to:
- balance energy depleted by labor & birth
- replenish iron, minerals & vitamins
- balance hormones
- lessen postnatal bleeding
- increase milk production
- help you have a happier postpartum period
- complement your body’s effort in returning the uterus to its pre-pregnancy state
- be helpful during menopause
My experience with placenta encapsulation has been nothing short of amazing which is why I wanted to write a post on this somewhat controversial topic. My childhood friend Brooks contacted me shortly before I gave birth to Liam and raved about her experience with eating her placenta (placentophagia). She said it made such a difference for her after having her first child and noticed the difference in recovery after she gave birth to her second and wasn’t able to save the placenta. I took her advice to heart and talked it over with Ryan. Surprisingly enough, he was all for it. (Side note- the guy is forever inundated with my “hippie” ideas of parenting so I was sure he could handle it but he immediately was in favor!) I did a little research and found Andrea who would come to the hospital to pick up the placenta after Liam was born.
I discussed my wishes with my OB who said it wouldn’t be a problem. I also told the nurses working with me that we were saving it. The more people looking out for it, the better. They were great about it too. I think they’d already labeled me as the “natural” mom so it wasn’t too strange for them. Liam’s delivery was so smooth & uneventful, it wasn’t hard to remind them to set the placenta aside for us.
We brought a small cooler to ensure nothing happened to it after the birth. The nurses put the placenta in a small plastic tub with a lid and Ryan filled the cooler with ice to preserve it. I called Andrea shortly after delivery to let her know she could come by and get it that evening. She encapsulated it and dropped off a large bottle of pills for me Friday afternoon.
I started off with the recommended amount of 2 pills 3x a day. Shortly after my milk came in (!!!) so I dialed it back a bit and took 2 pills 2x a day. I kept this up throughout the move from Chicago to Virginia. Once we got here and I felt less stressed, I took 2 pills 1x a day. I stopped when I developed mastitis but had to start taking them again when Liam was going through his 6 week growth spurt. Not just for help with milk production but for my overall sense of well-being and emotional stability.
My two childbirth experiences were wildly different, as was the postpartum period but my decision to eat my placenta was made for one reason only: I want to be the best mother I can be to our son. I saw the placenta encapsulation as an insurance policy. There was no harm in doing it but there could be if I didn’t. I was very depressed after Aden (for obvious reasons) but I worried my raging hormones would inhibit me from mothering Liam to the best of my ability. $225 was a very small price to pay to ensure this was not the case.
My postpartum recovery period has been a breeze. Seriously. My uterus went back to normal size within 2 weeks, which is pretty much unheard of, especially for a second baby. I’ve had no feelings of helplessness or being so overwhelmed I couldn’t handle it. Quite the opposite, I’ve found my patience has increased tenfold as I learn how to roll with the punches of life with a newborn. Despite our 800 mile move 2 weeks after giving birth, I didn’t feel overly stressed (beyond what I would consider normal) and felt shockingly calm most of the time. I was functioning on about 3-4 hours of broken sleep for the first month without issue. I’ve also been able to enjoy a very successful breastfeeding relationship with Liam without having to supplement at all which has directly contributed to my weight loss. I’m already back at my pre-pregnancy weight! Of course, I need to get my muscles back but I’m not complaining.
So, this has been my very long-winded explanation of why placenta encapsulation worked for us and I hope I’ve shed some light on the taboo subject. Perhaps I’ll convert some readers??
Andrea also has an Etsy shop where she sells a DIY kit. This is definitely not for everyone, but my friend Joni went this route since there is no one close by who encapsulates. Her husband actually did it! What a rock star…