Before your imagination starts to run wild and you envision me tucking into my placenta on a dinner plate with a steak knife and glass of red while recovering in my birthing suite, think again.
What is the Placenta & What Does it Do?
The word placenta come from the Greek, meaning "plate" or "discoid." This is because the placenta resembles the shape of a dinner plate attached to the side of the uterus, with the umbilical cord connecting the baby's belly. Without a placenta, no fetus could ever survive.
The placenta has many unique and important roles. It can assist in the sharing of information from the mother to the baby and then back to the mother. Crazy, right?
1. Acts as a filter: with the help of the umbilical cord that is, allowing the goodness from mum to reach the fetus, all while keeping the toxins at bay.
2. Functions as a sensor: the placenta helps decipher what the fetus needs also helps to regulate the absorption of amino acids, fat, oxygen and vitamins.
3. Operates as a hormone factory: it produces high levels of oestrogen, progesterone and cortisol for mum and fetus.
The first time I’d ever heard of eating one’s placenta was many years ago when I was trying to fall pregnant myself. I stumbled across Jennifer Stano who had quite a social media following and was expecting her first child. From memory, I loved her pregnancy style, and followed her in the hopes of getting some helpful dress-the-bump tips.
A video popped up on my Instagram one morning, and the still was of Jennifer and her husband. She had delivered her baby, and she’d had a little boy. The video caught my attention because she was in a hospital but had a kitchen blender in front of her. Perplexed and curious, I proceeded to watch her make a placenta smoothie and with a chunk of her raw placenta, fresh berries and some other ingredients. The video was about the smoothie and getting her husband to drink it, which he did. When I saw this video I was absolutely appalled! Why on earth would you make your husband do that? Shock value? How ridiculous. And what was the point of a placenta smoothie in the first place? I couldn’t help but think it was a grab for attention at the time, and I shook my head, chalking it up to wanting likes and dropped jaws.
Fast forward a few years to when I finally had a bun in the oven and my world shifts. It’s funny how pregnancy makes you pull out all the stops and really look after yourself for the sake of your baby. I was at the end of my third trimester living in Melbourne and a girlfriend of mine had mentioned that she had her placenta encapsulated. I was thrilled to have someone close to me that I could actually talk to about the experience. After all, when it comes to matters such as these, we need to peel back all the layers of assumptions, fear, and disgust that stem from ignorance.
She told me about her great experience with Anna Papadakis from Opening To Life and I called her immediately. Anna is a birth attendant, birth educator, body centered therapist and trainer. She started placenta encapsulation in 2012, and now it's a core part of her practice.
I confessed to Anna that I didn’t know much about the process, how it worked, or anything for that matter. I hadn't even read the website yet, but I was close to giving birth and keen as mustard to learn more. I also alluded to the fact that I’d heard consuming the placenta was good for a mother’s recovery, and that was something I desperately wanted to know more about.
Anna and I spoke on the phone at length about the process, the placenta itself and how sacred it is. I don’t mean that in a spiritual way (although it is pretty magical), but I personally feel that it's such a misunderstood organ. So if you're at all like me, and curious about this process, I find it easiest to break it down into two categories, the WHY and the HOW of consuming your placenta.
"We need to peel back all the layers of assumptions, fear, and disgust that stem from ignorance."
- Erica Kickert
As a soon to be new mum, I was quite worried about postnatal depression, commonly referred to as PND. The idea of PND being a dark horse that doesn't discriminate really spooked me. I'd spoken to a midwife who mentioned that I might be at risk for a few reasons, in particular due to our lack of support and absence of family from either side due to our move up to Queensland when our baby would be a mere 7 weeks old. My husband's family live in Melbourne and my family live in California, and I knew I'd particularly struggle when my parents had to say goodbye to their only child and their first grandchild.
In the same way that you commit to eating well and getting rest for the sake of your unborn baby, I committed to making my recovery the smoothest it could be, and that started by working from the inside out.
Anna went over a few key benefits, which were:
- Increasing our iron levels, which will help to combat fatigue, give you more energy, and therefore less depression. It's often difficult to absorb iron from supplements. You ingest crazy high does and the excess is expelled via black poop (if you've ever been on these supplements, you'd know exactly what I'm talking about)! However, when it's your own iron, it's much easier to absorb.
- Some research shows that increasing Vitamin B6 combats post natal depression and helps to regulate mental process and mood.
- The placenta contains high levels of Oxytocin, which is commonly referred to as the "love drug." Increasing the levels of this hormone increases your sense of wellbeing and happiness.
- The placenta also contains Lactogen which has been shown to help increase breast milk supply.
Click here to read about more benefits and how/why they work.
In Anna’s case, she only handles one placenta at a time in her work space. I really loved that she had this policy, for obvious reasons! Once the baby and the placenta have been born, it's set aside in a plastic tub by the hospital staff and awaits pick up. I didn't even know Anna had been to collect the placenta, and then I received a sweet text message that she would be dropping by with my capsules all ready to go and was excited to meet me.
It's your decision how you would like it to be prepared.
Anna offers two methods:
I wanted the placenta to retain as much goodness as possible, and opted not to cook it. This form of encapsulation involves less processing and will yield more capsules for you too. Once the placenta is cleaned, accessed, measured and cooked/dehydrated, it's then ground up and placed into clear organic capsules. Anna then bottles it up and it's delivered to you within 48-72 hours with specific instructions about how many to take a day.
My experience was outstanding. I ask most pregnant women if they are going to eat their placenta, and I get a lot of sideways glances, but I also meet a few women who say "YES" or who ask me for more information. My milk came in on day 2/3, I bounced back so quickly, got my period a few weeks later and didn't have any baby blues. I genuinely believe the encapsulation was responsible for my speedy recovery.
One of my favourite yoga students from Melbourne, Anna D, had asked me about the process and decided to have her placenta encapsulated after her second birth. This is what she had to say:
"I thought about having my placenta encapsulated during my first pregnancy but I let myself be talked out of it. After the birth of my first daughter the baby blues hit me hard. I was so scared that I was developing postnatal depression. (I was lucky that my baby blues only lasted a couple of weeks).
Second pregnancy I went with my gut and organised to have my placenta encapsulated, and I’m so glad that I did! No baby blues at all after the birth of my second daughter, plus my recovery was so much faster which was great as I had an active toddler to keep up with this time. I also found I had a lot more energy in the morning despite having to wake several times for night feeds.
My husband was also really sick at the time and I don’t know if they helped, but I didn’t catch whatever bug he had. I’d happily encouraged placenta encapsulation to any Mumma’s to be."
- Anna D, Melbourne
I highly recommend that you read some testimonials to get a feel for what people are saying about the process.
It's a great place to begin if this is something you're weighting up.
Have you ever had your placenta encapsulated?
Would you consider having it done? Tell me in the comments below.
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