Dear Diary,

Imagine holding this conversation in your house the weeks following your child’s birth.

“Hey honey! What are you cooking?”

“Placenta. Oh, I think it’s pronounced polenta. The potato like vegetable?”

“No, I was right the first time. I’m steaming my placenta.”

Now, I’m not easily grossed out as a new mom, especially since Caitlyn spit up in my hair, sneezed in my mouth and went to the bathroom on my pajamas as a baby. But when I heard about popping placenta pills, my stomach turned. Technically, I already ingested the contents of my afterbirth. But after seeing it, I lost my appetite. When I heard of women saving, freezing and cooking their placenta, I wondered if it was another weird pregnancy craving like pickles and ice cream or if there was something more to the matter.

During the first three weeks after giving birth, new moms are seven times more likely to be hospitalized for mental illnesses than mothers with older infants. That’s according to a recent study conducted in Denmark. The moms were admitted for postpartum depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and other illnesses. Researchers stated that some of the women were sleep deprived or socially isolated from family members and support systems. I wondered if I would pop a pill to keep this from happening to me. Is it that simple? Would you swallow the preventive measure if the medicine were made up of your placenta? Placenta encapsulation is said to be the best way to beat the baby blues. I still wasn’t convinced, mostly out of ignorance since I never heard of humans doing this. So, I caught up with Emily Murphy at Pittsburgh Placenta to educate myself, and others, about afterbirth uses.

What is placenta encapsulation?

Placenta encapsulation is an ancient practice that was recently revived by the progressive birth community in the United States. There are a few ways to encapsulate a placenta.  The most common is called TCM (Traditional Chinese Method.) I use the TCM method.  The placenta is carefully prepared within 72 hours following the birth. First it is cleaned and steamed, then it is dehydrated overnight, ground into a powder, and put into capsules. In the weeks immediately following childbirth, the mother takes the placenta pills on a daily basis to regulate her hormones and to return important nutrients to her body.

What are the benefits of taking placenta capsules?

The potential benefits of placenta are many and can include: decreased postpartum depression, decrease in bleeding, decreased iron deficiency, increase in energy, and an increase in milk supply.

Some doctors say the advantages are based on theory not science.  Do you disagree? 

Most of the evidence for the benefits of placenta ingestion are in the form of anecdotal evidence, meaning that there have been very few studies on placentophagy (eating one’s placenta.) However, most mothers who ingest their placenta can and attest to many of the benefits listed above.

If you have a hospital birth, do you need special permission to save your placenta?

Sometimes, it really depends on the hospital.  Each hospital has its own protocol when it comes to the release of an organ.  Usually it is a simple waiver that the mother will have to sign.  But, if a woman is thinking about having a hospital birth and wants to take her placenta with her, she should discuss it with her care provider before going into labor.

How many women have you provided this service to? Who is your average client?

Pittsburgh Placenta has been encapsulating placentas for a few years now, but I myself have been encapsulating placentas since August 2011.  I have encapsulated about two dozen since then.  I can’t say that I have an “average” client.  Some mothers come to me with their first birth and are looking to help ensure a nice postpartum recovery, but I guess many come when they are expecting the birth of their second child and are looking for a better recovery after a struggle with the baby blues or low milk supply.  My clients give birth in all places and in all manners.

A lot of people are grossed out when they think about ingesting their placenta.  But technically, they are the contents once before.  What would you say to change their mind?

I would say that it truly is not as gross as it seems.  People talk about “eating placenta” and the image that this phrase congers up is one of someone eating a raw placenta, when in actuality, (after I have encapsulated it) the client is simply swallowing a couple of capsules that look very much like vitamins.  There is no taste, no after taste and once the capsules are out of the container, there is no smell either.  The client never even has to look at the raw placenta if she does not want to.  And, if someone cannot swallow pills, the capsules can be opened and mixed into yogurt or another food and never even seen.

Do you think people are disgusted by placenta encapsulation because they are uneducated on the matter?

I am not sure if it is being uneducated or rather a cultural stigma that makes people disgusted by the idea.  I am sure that there are many people out there who can agree with the benefits and understand that it is something that is accepted in other cultures, but for whatever reason, they remain “grossed out” by the idea.  And that is ok.  I understand that what I do is not for everyone.  I just want the information to get out there and to reach those who are interested and those who may just need a little push to accept this unusual idea.

Among the Chinese and Vietnamese, it is customary to prepare the placenta for consumption by the mother. Why haven’t Americans embraced this practice?

I am really not sure.  It may have something to do with our practices and culture when it comes to childbirth in general.  In our country, childbirth is seen as something that needs to be controlled by science and medicine and that the safest place for the mother and baby is the hospital—which is not necessarily the view in other parts of the world.  And since childbirth has strayed so far from its natural process, I think that placenta consumption has also been left behind.  It may also be that in Eastern cultures, childbirth is thought of as a spiritual process and the placenta a key part in this.  And again, our country has distanced itself from the spiritual nature of childbirth and the miracle of the placenta.

What are placenta traditions in other cultures?

The Ibo of Nigeria and Ghana treat the placenta as the dead twin of the child, and it is given burial rites. It is often buried under a tree. Many Arabs hold the belief that the future fertility of a woman is connected to the disposition of the placenta.  So if something unpleasant would happen to it, the woman would become sterile. In Cambodia the placenta is wrapped in a banana leaf and placed beside the newborn child for three days then buried. In Korea the placenta is burned and the ashes are kept and given in a liquid form to help heal the child when illness strikes. The Navajo Indians bury the child’s placenta within the sacred four corners of the tribe’s reservation and bury objects with it to symbolize what they hope the child will pursue in the future.

If one of Diary of a First Time Mom’s Readers wants to get this done, how long does placenta encapsulation take, and how much does it cost?

The process is really two steps; the first step takes about an hour and a half and includes the prints, the cleaning and steaming of the placenta, and then slicing it and dehydrating it for about 8-10 hours.  After the placenta is dehydrated, it is ground into a fine powder and encapsulated—this takes another twenty minutes or so.  The total cost for placenta encapsulation is $175.

You can contact Emily Murphy for more information. 

Phone: 412-334-4914 

Email: Ekratt@live.com

Website: www.pittsburghplacenta.com

Hey DFT family–Would you pop a placenta pill?  Is it great or gross?

 

 

About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the Board of Directors for Big Sisters Big Brothers and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp Campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 3-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 40+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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  • Marcelle Marie Alvarado

    when i first heard of ingesting my placenta, i was in a prenatal yoga class. my initial reaction- slightly grossed out, but after about 5 minutes of thinking about it, i decided it wasn’t gross. i had heard of burials for placentas, and i knew animals do it for nutritional purposes. i figure then, at some point humans must have done it as well. i did it after all my 3 babies were born and because i knew my 3rd baby would be my last, i also had a tincture made to save for menopause, as it also has added benefits for symptoms. it has made a huge difference for me. i could see the difference on the days i haven’t taken my placenta. i don’t have any regrets.