The Power of the Placenta - A Look into Placenta Encapsulation
By Shasta Colmenares
This beautifully designed and life-giving home for a growing baby is as perfect and individual as a fingerprint. The first time I saw a placenta in person was attending my first delivery in 2009. It was about 20 minutes after the water birth of a beautiful baby girl, that it was ‘ready’ and with one small push it emerged. Gliding through the water and up to the surface there it was, all shades of blue and red with a perfectly mapped tree of life on it. I was surprised by my reaction, since honestly I didn’t think it could be so beautiful, after all it is an organ. But to my surprise it was a bit of a spiritual awaking for me; this one vital piece consistent for all human life. For my husband, however, this was not the case. It was far from a spiritual experience when he first opened the plain white container in the fridge thinking it was potato salad only to find a client’s placenta! Needless to say he has gotten used to the constant fridge invasion and is very careful to not open the unlabeled containers haha!
For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has celebrated the placenta as a powerful and invaluable part of the postpartum healing process. After giving birth many new mothers can experience blood loss, fatigue, and a drop in their high pregnancy hormones; all of which are thought of as key factors in developing the “baby blues” or postpartum depression (PPD). Full of Qi (life energy), the placenta aids in postpartum wellness by replenishing a new mama’s body with natural iron & protein and helps reintroduce all of the essential hormones back into her system. Although not all my clients decide to encapsulate, the ones who do remain to be the biggest advocates for the healing power it provides.
Let me start by explaining what placenta encapsulation really is. Placenta encapsulation is simply taking a mother’s placenta directly after birth and ‘processing’ it into small vitamin-like capsules for her to take during her postpartum healing. Typically a placenta will make between 75-225 capsules depending on the size of the baby, gestation and capsules size. Most people find this to have the lowest “ick-factor” method to ingesting the placenta, and even the celebrities are jumping on the bandwagon. Women like January Jones, Kim Kardashian, Alicia Silverstone and others have benefited from this wonderful process after their births. Today, approximately 80% of women experience some level of postpartum depression/mood disorder. Ingesting the placenta is the most natural and healthy way to help avoid these symptoms. Based on findings from the IPEN (independent placenta encapsulation network), there are several healing benefits for a new mama to ingest her placenta, the key ones are as follows:
Helps establish a healthy and enriched supply of breast milk
Replenish essential hormones such as oxytocin, zinc and
CRH (stress reducer and aids in mother-baby bonding)
Decrease in postpartum bleeding
Decreased anxiety and postpartum depression
Replenish essential nutrients such as vit B6 and iron
And even decreased morning sickness in future pregnancies.
There are two primary methods of encapsulating, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and Raw. Each method is appropriate and preferred by different women. The TCM method, is the oldest known and most commonly used preparation. In the method, the placenta is steamed lightly over water and fresh organic warming ‘aids’ such as Lemon, ginger, and a spicy pepper. In Chinese theory the raw placenta is considered cold (yin energy) and therefore unsuitable for postpartum healing. By steaming it, you are adding in warmth or Yang energy while infusing it with warming herbs to balance and nourish the postpartum body. Next the steamed placenta is sliced and dehydrated then ground up and encapsulated.
The Raw method is most used for clients who follow a raw diet centered on the idea that heat destroys vital enzymes in food. The IPEN does believe that it may affect the stem cells, hormones and B vitamins which are sensitive to heat but to what degree is unknown. This method also retains more iron from the blood that is not “cooked out” during the steaming process. My clients have found it to be a more potent form and therefore requires less pills to be taken throughout the day, and also tends to yield a higher number of capsules per placenta. In this method the rinsed placenta is sliced and dehydrated at temperatures under 118 degrees, though I typically do mine at 110, so as not to ‘cook’ it. Next it is ground and put into capsules just like the TCM method.
Here are some fun facts about placentas that may help you appreciate how amazing they are:
The placenta is made up of 50% cells from the mother and 50% of the cells from the baby. If you know anything about organ donation, you will know how amazing it is that the mother’s body doesn’t reject it.
The sperm is responsible for creating the placenta and umbilical cord. So, technically, the placenta is *his* organ- growing in your body, supporting the baby you both created. How beautiful is that?
The baby’s blood and the mother’s blood never actually meet. The mothers blood carries all the oxygen and nutrients to the placenta which then filters it out any impurities or toxins, then transfers the ‘goods’ into the vessels to the babies blood.
A placenta is typically about 1/6th the weight of the baby (1-3 lbs).
A baby can send stem cells through the placenta to heal its mother organs if they are struggling, including the brain, liver, kidney and lung. The placenta also creates cells to protect the mother’s heart and fend of breast cancer.
The placenta preforms the duties of a lung, liver, kidney and its own endocrine system providing all the hormones for both mama and baby throughout pregnancy.
Although you may never fully appreciate this amazing organ that way I do, you have to admit the benefits of placentophagy are amazing and can help with a new mother’s postpartum transition. If you have any additional questions regarding this process, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.shastadoula.com
(Credits: UNLV- Professor Benyshek & Dr. Young in pioneering research into maternal human placentophagy, the practice of mothers consuming their placenta. Seana Burgland, Birthworker and professional placenta encapsulation. Colin Blakemore and Shelia Jennett. "placenta." The Oxford Companion to the Body. 2001. Clinic research by Hina W. Chaudhry, MD, Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine for American Heart Association.)