Today, we are going to be talking about placentas. Specifically what you can do with yours following the birth of your baby and placenta. To the people of Parigi in the Celebes Islands the placenta is viewed as the elder sibling to the baby. They preserve it carefully in a pot which is wrapped in white cotton. The mother then buries it, and the spot is marked with palm trees to honor the occasion. (E. Croft Long, 1963) Those in Achinsk, Siberia, see the placenta as a sibling as well and if the child becomes sick they say that the placenta is ill and the placentas burial site will be treated with medicaments or the placenta will be reburied in a better spot. (E. Croft Long, 1963) According to Transylvania gypsies traditions the placenta must be burned along with the meconium. They hold the belief that evil fairies could turn them into vampires who would attack the child if they didn’t! (E. Croft Long, 1963) But what are those of us without a tradition regarding placentas to do with ours?
Currently there is a growing movement of women choosing to eat their placenta in the postpartum period. They claim it can help ward off postpartum depression, increase the amount of breastmilk they produce, and/or give them more energy! The most common method of preparation is called placenta encapsulation. This is the process by which the placenta is washed, steamed, dehydrated, ground into a fine powder, and finally put into easy to take capsules; this is called the Traditional Chinese Method. There is another method that women are choosing called the Raw Method. This is the same process except the specialist preparing it will put it into the dehydrator raw, omitting the steaming step.
Did you know almost all mammals consume their placentas? The only ones that don’t partake are aquatic mammals, marsupials, and those bred in captivity. (Kristal, 1980) But don’t animals just do that because of predators? Nope, even those that are the predators consume it. Herbivores consume their placentas without converting to a carnivorous diet. (Kristal, 1980) Carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores alike all consume their placentas. Leading us to believe that there must be a nutritional benefit to consuming the placenta. (Beacock, 2012) Interesting fact about marsupials, they actually reabsorb their placenta, so while they don’t orally ingest the placenta they are taking back the nutrients housed within it. (Kristal, 1980) So no, animals are not just eating it to protect their young from predators, they have found a nutritional benefit from their placentas.
Now you may be wondering, does it really help with milk production and postpartum depression, or is it just something the mothers want to believe; is it just a placebo? A study was done in the 1950’s on the effects of the placenta used to treat insignificant milk production. (Soykova-pachnerova, 1954) Women who were having difficulty breastfeeding were given placenta or ground meat as a control. (Soykova-pachnerova, 1954) The study found that consuming their placenta did help increase their milk supply. (Soykova-pachnerova, 1954) Another was done to measure the nutrient and hormonal content of heat-dried human placenta. ((1), et al.) And it showed that the placenta retained the nutrients and hormones through the heat-drying process, the same one used in both the Traditional Chinese Method and the Raw Method. There was a study done by three doctors, Hendrick, Altshuler, and Suri, that studied the hormones of women postpartum to show that hormones do play a role in postpartum depression. (Victoria Hendrick, 1998)This also showed that even normal levels of hormones when increased can help bluster a mother’s mood and help alleviate the symptoms of postpartum depression. (Victoria Hendrick, 1998) BMJ published a study showing that iron fatigue can be present without the mother being anemic. (BMJ, 2003) Elizabeth J. Corwin, PhD, RN, CNP, and Megan Arbour, MS, CNM took this information farther showing that that this fatigue can weigh on a mother and might be a trigger for postpartum depression. (Elizabeth J. Corwin, 2007) That being said, there is hope for the mothers in that the placenta was a readily available source of iron and it can help mothers with iron fatigue. ((1), et al.) Furthermore showing that the placenta can help mothers with postpartum depression. So is it just a placebo? While the research is limited there’s too much evidence to the contrary.
Postpartum depression is classified as a mood disorder that begins after childbirth. (Diseases and Conditions; Postpartum depression, 2015) This is more than just the “baby blues.” Postpartum depression can be debilitating; causing feelings of inadequacy, confusion, panic, anxiety, guilt and shame. (Diseases and Conditions; Postpartum depression, 2015)Women have less energy, insomnia or the opposite, excessive sleep. Changes in appetite and withdrawing from social contact are also common. (Diseases and Conditions; Postpartum depression, 2015) They may experience thoughts of running away, or have thoughts of suicide. (Diseases and Conditions; Postpartum depression, 2015)And one in seven women will experience this. (Wisner KL, 2013) Postpartum depression is a complex issue. It’s caused by hormonal changes after giving birth, and the emotional difficulties of being a parent. (Diseases and Conditions; Postpartum depression, 2015) But women are speaking up and out about how much placenta encapsulation has helped them overcome postpartum depression. Mothers report ease of breastfeeding with increased lactation, and increased happiness and energy with their placenta pills. For the 1 in 7 mothers who have been sunk deep into a depression before or currently are, placenta encapsulation can be extraordinary!
Bibliography (1), P., (2), T., (3), S., (1), C., (2), L., & (, C. (n.d.). Nutrients and Hormones in Heat-Dried Human Placenta. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 83(6).
Beacock, M. (2012). Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits? British Journal of Midwifery, 20(7), 2.
BMJ. (2003, March 20). Iron supplementation for unexplained fatigue in non-anaemic women: double blind randomised placebo controlled trial. Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/326/7399/1124
Diseases and Conditions; Postpartum depression. (2015, Aug 11). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/symptoms/con-20029130
E. Croft Long, M. B. (1963). The Placenta in Lore and Legend. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 233-241.
Elizabeth J. Corwin, P. R. (2007, July/August). Postpartum Fatigue and Evidence-Based Interventions. MCN, American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 215-220.
Kristal, M. B. (1980). Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma. Neuroscience & Biohehavioral Reviews, 4.
Soykova-pachnerova, E. (1954). Placenta as a Lactagogon.
Victoria Hendrick, M. L. (1998). Hormonal Changes in the Postpartum and Implications for Postpartum Depression. PSYCHOSOMATICS, 39(2).
Wisner KL, S. D. (2013). Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-harm, and Diagnoses in Postpartum Women With Screen-Positive Depression Findings. JAMA Psychiatry, 490-498.