When I was pregnant with my second baby, I was lucky enough to have long discussions with my midwives. During one of those conversations, we talked about my postpartum support plans. We discussed my experience during the early days and weeks with my first baby, what I wished had been different and whether I had resources to support those needs. As a trained doula and childbirth educator, I had a good understanding about the needs of a postpartum family. I mentioned that I was feeling anxious about my ability to chase after a 3-year-old while nursing a new baby because I remembered being really tired and low on energy with my first.
At this point, the conversation took a turn that even I, as a doula and childbirth educator, wasn’t really prepared for. Their response went something like, “Well, you can eat your placenta. We’ll prepare a stew or lasagna for you, and it will really replenish your body.” I consider myself a person that will really test the limits of normal, in most circumstances, but that just did not seem appealing at all! However, their next suggestion changed my opinion: “We could also put it into a pill or a tincture for you to take as medicine.” I decided to try and started my research on placenta encapsulation. Today, I am a certified placenta encapsulation specialist. Here’s what I’ve learned.
The placenta is an interesting organ. Soon after conception, cells come together, multiply and divide in the perfect way for each individual. This process creates a baby as well as a supportive, symbiotic sister—the placenta. Inside the womb, alongside the baby, this transient organ grows and acts as a supportive filter for nourishment and provides a level of protection to a developing fetus and mother.
Until recently, our culture has treated the placenta as medical waste or even a biohazard. However, this is not the case elsewhere, where the placenta has taken on an ephemeral quality that is steeped in folklore, tradition and centuries of practical use. Take the animal world, for example. Soon after giving birth, most mammals actively consume their placentas, without even greeting their young first.
This consumption is observed at all levels of the mammalian food chain, from the mightiest predator to the tiniest prey. Scientists think it might be only partially for cleaning purposes (thus protecting the nesting site from predators). Some research suggests that placenta consumption increases the maternal nurturing instinct in mammals.
The science is scarce when it comes to human placentophagy, yet the anecdotal/experiential evidence points to it being of great value. A human study in the 1950s indicated that placenta consumption helped with milk production in mothers who had a hard time producing milk with previous births. There is a scientific study currently happening at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas to test the theory that placenta seems to help with “the baby blues.” Baby blues are feelings of sadness that are different from postpartum depression, and up to 80 percent of women may experience them. They typically occur during the first three postpartum weeks, when the hypothalamus (the body’s hormone regulator) is recalibrating after the birth of the baby.
For me, consuming placenta really did make a difference in my energy levels after birth. Sure, it was my second baby, and maybe I had a better idea of how to be a mom. But my birth experiences were very similar, and the level of support I had after birth was very much the same. Of course, I rested and took gentle care of my body, but it also seemed like the placenta was actually helping me. I noticed the difference in my moods and energy level as well as my milk production. My husband even noticed a difference in me, and if I was grumpy or really tired he gently asked, “Honey, did you take your happy pills today?” We would both observe a change for the better after I took a placenta capsule.
I am happy to share this with women and families everywhere. I feel very lucky to have such a mother-friendly profession.
Mendy Thijssen is a certified encapsulation specialist that has served almost 500 couples in the Bay Area. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.