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My friend Genevieve Howland, aka Mama Natural, is sharing 2 amazing things with you all today. First is the idea of Eating Placenta.
Ummmm—really? Well, yes. Really.
Eating your Placenta is something that was not on my radar when I had my babies, but since then I have read about it and the potential benefits of it numerous times. And I've wondered–if I were going to have another baby….
Would I? Could I?
Whether you're thinking this is “way out there” and “totally disgusting”, I encourage you to have an open mind and read what Genevieve has to say about it.
Genevieve has also just come out with this amazing book that is poised to change the face of pregnancy and childbirth–for the better. The Mama Natural Week-By-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth.
She was kind enough to share an excerpt from the book below–regarding Eating Placenta. What do you think??
“Please tell me you're joking”, my husband said, staring at me in disbelief.
“We’re the only mammals who don’t eat it . . .” I replied in the most convincing tone I could muster.
“Right,” he sighed. “But we’re also the only mammals who drive cars and leave tips at restaurants.”
Oh, my poor husband. Papa Natural had come so far after the birth of our son. From wearing our newborn in a baby carrier to scraping poop off cloth diapers, he’d embraced just about every crunchy practice I’d brought into our home.
But now I was pregnant with Baby #2 and eating my placenta, I guess, was just too much for him.
I couldn’t blame him.
To be honest, the idea of eating my placenta was a little too much for me during my first pregnancy.
I mean, sure, I’d heard that placentophagy was supposedly an ancient practice—dried human placenta has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. And humans really are some of the only mammals that don’t consume the placenta immediately after birth. (Granted, some experts believe it’s only eaten to hide traces of birth from predators in the wild—admittedly not something I’d have to worry about at the birth center.)
I also knew that popping “placenta pills” had become all the rage in pop culture. Stars, including January Jones and Kim Kardashian, raved about surges of energy and increased breast milk production, sparking a major, worldwide trend.
All of a sudden, placenta recipes were flooding the internet. New mamas could even flip through one of several placenta-themed cookbooks!
But is the placenta really a postpartum miracle drug, or is eating it just . . . gross?
This time around, I had to find out.
Why would any woman eat her placenta?
During pregnancy, baby will pull all the nutrients he needs from his mother—whether she has enough to spare or not. This is, of course, why adequate nutrition is so vitally important for mamas-to-be (growing a baby is really tough work).
Unfortunately, our depleted soils yield produce that’s less healthy than it once was. Feedlot cattle, chickens, turkeys, and pigs, meanwhile, are less nutrient-dense than pasture-raised animals. Add in the prevalence of processed, fried, and refined foods, and it’s no wonder many women have some level of nutritional deficiency even before they get pregnant. And once they do give birth, the demands on their bodies are nowhere near over. (Breastfeeding alone, for example, burns up to 500 calories a day!)
Even the World Health Organization recommends spacing pregnancies between two and five years apart, so that mama has adequate time to rebuild her energy stores.
For these reasons and more, some people swear by human placentophagy.
Benefits of Eating Placenta
It’s thought that eating the placenta after childbirth can provide:
A Hormonal Boost
During pregnancy your body is chock-a-block full of surging hormones, but almost immediately after birth, those hormones plummet.
Progesterone and estrogen, in particular, remain low until the return of your menstrual period—and that could take months or even years, as some women don’t begin menstruating again until they’ve stopped breastfeeding.
These hormonal highs and lows are the reason some new mamas feel tired, sluggish, weepy, emotional, or just plain bummed out after birth; they also may be a contributing factor in the eventual onset of postpartum depression.
The placenta, however, is full of hormones, including estrogen and progesterone (which are produced by the placenta), as well as oxytocin (which crosses the placenta during labor). It’s thought that ingesting the organ, then, may alleviate some of that hormonal whiplash.
The placenta also contains prolactin, the hormone that triggers breast milk production, which is likely why mamas who eat it often experience a surge of milk and faster letdown.
A Nutrient Boost
In addition to hormones, the placenta contains vitamins and minerals, including iron and vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, as well as amino acids and essential fats, which makes perfect sense when you think about it, since one of the main functions of the placenta is to deliver nutrients to the baby while in utero.
It’s thought that ingesting the placenta, therefore, might replenish some of the nutrients that were depleted during pregnancy and childbirth.
A Healing Boost
Preserving or “banking” the blood from a newborn’s umbilical cord has become a routine part of childbirth for a growing number of parents. But cord blood isn’t the only source of life-giving stem cells.
The placenta is loaded with these biological building blocks, too, which is one reason why the practice of placentophagy may speed up healing of the uterus after childbirth, as well as decrease postpartum bleeding.
What other mamas say about eating their placentas…
Here are some comments by real mamas who's eaten their placentas–and lived to tell about it :).
Kimberly: I’ve had my placenta encapsulated after each of three pregnancies, and I would definitely recommend it. The first time around it really seemed to help with mood swings and depression. As time went on, however, I did have to stop taking the pills because the hormones made me a bit dizzy.
Felicity: I had my placenta encapsulated after the birth of my first (and only) baby. True, I have nothing to compare it to, but my energy, mood, milk supply, and recovery were all amazing—I attribute lots of that to taking my placenta.
Clair: I had to cut back on the number of pills I was taking because I started to become engorged, but once I made the adjustment, I felt great! Leslie: I was in the hospital for five days postpartum because my son was in the NICU, so I didn’t get my pills until day 5—and honestly, I didn’t notice much of a difference. However, I do take the pills from time to time when I need a boost of energy or know that my day is going to be stressful, and they really help!
Thoughts from a placenta encapsulator
My friend Maura Winkler is a registered nurse and placenta encapsulator; here's what she has to say:
True, there’s very little research to confirm the supposed benefits (or, conversely, the potential risks) of placentophagy, but one small report published in Ecology of Food and Nutrition in 2013 has always stood out: in a survey of 189 women who consumed their placentas after birth, 95 percent rated their experience as either “positive” or “very positive,” and a whopping 98 percent intended to repeat the experience after subsequent births. I have to say, I’m not that surprised. The placenta is beautifully complex even though it’s only a temporary organ, meant to sustain just a single pregnancy.
The precision and care your body takes to grow the placenta is just as awe-inspiring as the work that goes into growing a baby. And, sure, I’m a little biased. The placenta, which is said to resemble a “tree of life,” is my favorite organ, and I’m a professional encapsulator.
But I can tell you that not one of my clients has ever regretted having ingested her placenta.
Are the benefits of eating your placenta real or just placebo effect?
It wasn’t until I’d heard from so many other natural mamas—women who had struggled with postpartum depression or low milk supply or low energy or insomnia, who raved about the miracles of placentophagy—that I opened my mind (and eventually my stomach) to the idea.
Could such claims really be true?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to know for sure, because the evidence we have to support such claims is almost entirely anecdotal. There is virtually no scientific or clinical evidence that women who consume the placenta will reap a hormonal or nutritional benefit, and the practice has plenty of detractors.
What are the “cons” of eating your placenta?
Since the placenta is a filtration organ, for example, responsible for removing waste and preventing toxins from reaching baby while in utero, it’s possible that it may retain toxins, just as it retains vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. (Though you could argue the opposite, too, since it’s the placenta’s job to send waste to the kidneys and bowel for removal.)
Lack of regulation
Certainly, there’s no regulation of placentophagy by the FDA. Some doctors and other experts have raised concerns about possible contamination by bacteria or viruses if the placenta is not handled and stored properly (as would be necessary with any raw protein).
But the flip side of that coin?
There’s no evidence that consuming the placenta is bad for you, either.
Not every mom reacts positively to eating her placenta. In fact, my own experience with my encapsulated placenta wasn't 100% great, so I stopped taking the pills after a few days. I do know plenty of women who swear by eating their placentas though.
“Okay, I want to give placentophagy a try. What’s my first step?”
Whether you’re planning to whip up some placenta smoothies or ingest the placenta in capsule form, you'll want to start by:
Researching Your Hospital or Birth Center’s Placenta Policy
As placentophagy becomes increasingly popular, more and more hospitals across the country have begun to facilitate safe transport of the organ. Laws have been passed allowing mamas to take possession of their placentas after birth (albeit in only three states). Some alternative birth centers may even package up your placenta for you.
But don’t just show up on D-Day and expect that there will be no issues.
Your hospital may out- right refuse to let you take it, may require you to sign a liability waiver first, or may only allow you to take the organ after having secured a court order.
The point is, you need to know before you go.
Find an Encapsulator
Make sure you’re hiring a professional who’s received formal training. (Believe it or not, there are some rogue encapsulators out there who learned the technique via YouTube.)
An easy way to separate the pros from the amateurs? Ask your prospective encapsulator about her experience working with blood-borne pathogens, and see if she’ll give you a quick rundown of the process she uses to clean her equipment.
Bonus points if the service she provides comes with several options:
- Is she proficient in both raw and traditional preparations?
- Does she offer add-ons, such as tinctures?
- Will she prepare the placenta in your home?
More and more birth doulas are becoming trained in placenta encapsulation through a slew of national agencies. Ask your doula if she’s received training, or visit PlacentaBenefits.info or ProDoula.com to find a specialist near you.
Here's a video and post on placenta encapsulation from start to finish where you can see the process.
Add “Save My Placenta” to Your Birth Plan
Hospitals and birth centers dispose of the placenta as they would any other bio-hazardous medical waste, so you’ll want to make sure everyone involved knows not to toss yours in the trash!
Need a good, clear plan that nurses will actually read? Grab a customizable copy of our free visual birth plan!
Arrange for Safe Storage
The placenta can breed bacteria if it’s not handled properly.
As quickly as possible after birth, it should be sealed in an airtight plastic bag, placed inside a food-grade plastic storage container, and refrigerated or put on ice (which means you might need to bring a mini cooler with you to the hospital or birth center).
The placenta should be transferred to the encapsulator within two to three days (you can wait a bit longer if it’s been frozen).
Want to help change the birth culture in our country?
I've just published the first week-by-week pregnancy guide from a natural perspective. Featuring insights from a certified nurse midwife (who happened to deliver both of my children), as well as a registered nurse and doula, the book is packed with helpful info on:
- Natural remedies for common pregnancy symptoms
- When to get an ultrasound (and when not to)
- Sex during pregnancy
- The truth about epidurals
- How to naturalize a surgical birth
- Natural pain relief during labor
- What to do during every stage of labor
- How to recover naturally
- And so much more
This book is evidence-based, empowering and entertaining. ? (No boring text books over here!) If pregnancy is in your future, or if you know anyone who's pregnant, please consider picking up a copy.
Even if you aren't pregnant…
Consider purchasing the book and…
- Donating to your local library or church
- Giving to your OB-GYN at your next wellness visit
- Passing along at a La Leche meeting or baby carrying group
- Sharing with a pre-med student
- Keeping in your home library to loan out as needed
- Request at your local public or college library
Together, we can help change the face of birth in the U.S.
Thank you for your support!
Did you eat your placenta? (if not — would you?)
How was your experience?
Share with us in the comments below!
Genevieve has been rocking the natural world with her free pregnancy week-by-week series from a natural perspective. Plus she's got an awesome online birth class. With humor and hard work, Genevieve is helping change the culture around pregnancy and birth in our country.Now Genevieve is taking her mission to the next level with a beautiful new book that is out this week, The Mama Natural Week-By-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth.