Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Uh-Mazing Placenta!

 The placenta is a wonderful and complex organ that forms in a pregnant woman’s uterus to nourish her developing baby. It forms during the fourth week of pregnancy, after implantation, when the embryo’s cells divide in half- half will become the mother’s son or daughter, and half will become the placenta. The placenta provides the developing baby with nutrients via the umbilical cord, and allows for waste elimination and gas exchange via the mother’s bloodstream. The word placenta comes from the Latin word for cake and the Greek plakóenta/plakoúnta, meaning flat or slab-like, which describe the placenta’s shape.
                  Cultures with pre-Roman languages have other words for the placenta, translating to phrases like “little mother”, and “grandmother”. These definitions speak to their reverence for the placenta’s role as the developing baby’s lifeline during pregnancy. While it is typical in Western civilizations to incinerate the placenta after it is delivered, other cultures have ceremonies and rituals honoring it. ( In keeping with the halving of cells that occurs in the fourth week of pregnancy, the Ibo of Nigeria consider the placenta the deceased twin of the baby, and conduct full funeral rites for it. Native Hawaiians plant a tree over the placenta near the home of the baby, which will grow alongside the child throughout his life.
Burial and other rituals for the placenta are common, but placentophagy, or consumption of the placenta, is less so. Placentophagy is common in Eastern civilizations such as China, where it is dried and consumed for health reasons. Additionally, midwives and traditional healers have known of the helath and restorative properties of the placenta for thousands of years. After all, humans are one of the only mammals who do not eat their placentas after birth.
Though the nutritional value of placenta consumption is documented in animals, in humans it still remains “alternative”. More and more mothers are becoming vocal about the benefits of placenta consumption (Why Encapsulation?, but the subject is not breeched in the popular “pregnancy Bible” What to Expect When You’re Expecting, nor is it likely to be covered in most pregnancy and childbirth education classes. The topic of eating placenta has been launched into the media sphere by celebrities like January Jones who, recognizing the health benefits of her placenta, decided to consume it to speed her recovery postpartum. “I was never depressed or sad or down after the baby was born, so I’d highly suggest it to any pregnant woman,” she told Glamour magazine in April 2013. The actress attributes her ability to return to set in only three weeks to the consumption of her placenta.
                  The consumption of the placenta can “alleviate postpartum depression, aid in breastmilk production and lactation, act as a uterine tonic, and replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy," according to Atossa Araxia Abrahamian author of The Placenta Cookbook. The placenta is full of nutrients and hormones that provide amazing healing properties. The placenta contains high levels of prostaglandin which stimulates involution (an inward curvature or penetration, or, a shrinking or return to a former size) of the uterus, in effect cleaning the uterus out. The placenta also contains oxytocin which eases birth stress and causes the smooth muscles around the mammary cells to contract and eject milk.
 Consuming your placenta stabilizes your hormone levels, which can be effective in mother’s who are at risk for postpartum depression. It also provides natural pain relief from the birthing process, and provides interferon and gammaglobulin, which protect against infection by boosting the body’s immune system. In addition to the wonderful hormone benefits, the placenta also provides vitamins such as iron and B-vitamins that sustain energy and replenish the body postpartum. The combination of hormones and nutrients in your placenta is perfectly created for you, by you. After labor and birth, your body needs the hormones and nourishment that only your placenta can provide. (
So how do you go about consuming your placenta? Perhaps the easiest and most appetizing way is by ingesting dehydrated encapsulated placenta. The pills resemble prenatal vitamins, and can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer indefinitely, to be used throughout the postpartum period and even beyond, as the benefits of consuming your placenta during times of hormonal change such as menopause have also been documented by mothers.
Placenta tinctures are another wonderful modality to extend the purported benefits of placenta remedies for a lifetime.  Tinctures can be used after capsules pills are gone to reduce stress and aid in coping with life’s transitions. Many mothers use their tincture to ease emotional upheavals, anxiety, and stress during PMS, weaning, returning to work, illness, and even perimenopause.  Mothers report that placenta tinctures restore emotional and physical balance.
                  The placenta can also be eaten raw, such as ground up in smoothies, or cooked in recipes as a meat replacement. A tincture can be made using high grain alcohol and a portion of your placenta. The tincture method can maintain a very long shelf life and even be used during your menopausal years   as a hormonal supplement (see photo above). Although do-it-yourself recipes and methods are available to mothers, the safest and most effective way to ingest your placenta is probably through a method discussed with a Certified Encapsulation Specialist, meaning she has been trained and certified and adheres to ethics and standards of care of the placenta. You can find a Certified Encapsulation Specialist here: If you live in the Gulf Coast region of Florida like I do, Danielle E. Lorrraine, provides excellent services. Consulting a professional will ensure that the most nutrients possible are retained in your placenta regardless of which method of consumption you choose.
                  If you have the luxury of delivering your baby at home, then you will have full control over what happens to your placenta postpartum. If you are delivering in the hospital, however, measures should be taken to ensure that your health care provider and the staff who attend to you during your labor and delivery are aware of your intentions for your placenta. You and your birth team should be verbal and vigilant to make sure that all are aware that you intend to take your placenta with you. Unfortunately, because of the routine nature of placenta incineration, your placenta could be whisked away for testing by a well-meaning nurse or staff member and then taken with bio hazardous waste, or put in formaldehyde rendering it inedible. Make sure that your placenta stays with you in your delivery room at all times to avoid this.
                  Although there is still little scientific evidence backing placentophagy, mothers all over the world are singing the glorious praises of their placentas. The placenta is an incredible organ whose purpose need not be over when your baby has gained all she can from it. It can be used by you to combat mood swings and depression, and aid in all aspects of postpartum recovery.

If you are in the Sarasota, Florida area our store will be holding a class on the Amazing Placenta!

Other Placenta Resources:

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