By Wendy Gordon, Licensed Midwife & Certified Placenta Encapsulation Specialist
For decades in the United States, the placenta has been discarded after the birth and burned in hospital incinerators as “biohazardous waste.” No one wants to see it, smell it, touch it or talk about it. It’s a nuisance to have to push it out after the hard work of labor and delivering a baby, and it typically gets whisked out of sight where a nurse gives it a quick once-over before it’s off to the incinerator. If it’s talked about at all, it’s usually with disgust and lots of “ew!”
For centuries in the Far East, the placenta has been revered and honored as a life-giving organ of the mother/baby pair. After it has nourished and grown a healthy baby, it continues to support the mother after the birth as she takes it as a supplement in dried capsules. It helps the mother to strengthen her blood, as we often lose some of it during childbirth and can become weak. It strengthens her chi, or energy, as we work so hard for many months to grow a baby and give birth to it. And the placenta is one of the rare, valuable Chinese Medicines that strengthens jing, or essence, as we are born with all of the essence we will ever have, and lose much of it during childbirth. Placenta capsules are prescribed to help mothers boost their milk supply. It is the perfect medicine for the new mother, the perfect gift that arrives at exactly the time she needs it most.
Western research has not been interested in the placenta as medicine, perhaps because a human organ cannot be patented. Therefore we have no research (yet!) on what hormones and nutrients make it through the Traditional Chinese process of creating the powdered capsules. However, I think it’s safe to say that there is a great amount of iron in the capsules, as the placenta is a blood organ. There are also many, many hormones in the placenta. Women typically lose a few cups of blood at the time of birth, and the more blood lost, the longer the recovery time can be. Quickly replacing the lost iron can make a huge difference in that recovery time, allowing mothers to enjoy and bond with their babies in that crucial honeymoon period. Loss of blood can also result in a heavy fatigue, and when the new mother has to be awake to feed the baby every two to three hours around the clock, that downward spiral of sleep deprivation, loss of energy and wildly-swinging hormones can be a one-way ticket to postpartum depression.
About 80% of women experience some sort of postpartum mood disorder, the mildest of which has been dubbed “the baby blues.” It’s so common that women are told to just expect it in the first couple of weeks. For some women, postpartum depression or anxiety can appear a few weeks or months after the birth, anytime up to the first year. Placenta capsules give a wonderful strong boost of energy that can help mothers to manage these hormonal swings in a way that does not affect breastfeeding, like many medications can. Women who have experienced depression or anxiety before pregnancy, or who have family members with depression or other mood disorders, are at higher risk for postpartum depression. Placenta capsules have helped many women to avoid postpartum mood disorders in the most natural way possible.
It’s ideal for the mother to be able to start taking her placenta capsules as soon after the birth as possible. The process of making the capsules, when done in the method of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is a two-step process. The encapsulation specialist spends a couple of hours carefully preparing the placenta for drying, then it dries overnight in a dehydrator. The next day, the dried placenta is ground up into a powder and made into capsules. The average placenta yields about 100-125 capsules, which should last the mother several weeks. I often advise mothers to save some capsules for three to four months postpartum when there can often be a return to work and the milk supply goes down or there is a dip in mood. There are also lots of women with a stash of placenta capsules in the back of their freezers, waiting for menopause!
Although it’s important to be able to start taking the capsules soon after the birth, many hospitals in the Portland area have policies that require that they hold the placenta for seven to ten days after the birth. Some providers have been successful at requesting an early release of the placenta for their patients. Asking the hospital to hold it in the freezer is also a good way to preserve it until you can get it home. Placenta capsules are not likely to be affected by the use of epidurals or other drugs during labor, as most drugs have a fairly short half-life and are metabolized in the mother’s body. It’s also unlikely that the drugs would survive the process of preparing the capsules, but we don’t know for sure yet until the research is done. The only times that a placenta would not be able to be used for capsules are when there is an infection during labor, when the baby shows signs of infection after the birth, or the placenta is sent to Pathology for testing.
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