The Healing Power of Placenta
Placenta ingestion is something almost all mammals in the world do, but humans cross-culturally do not. It is done by new mothers who have just given birth. And by doing it, they receive hormone balancing effects, speed the healing of their uterus, replace the iron and blood cells that were lost in the birth process, ensure an abundant milk supply and reduce their risk of postpartum depression.
Before closing your mind to this process, learn about this fascinating ritual, to understand what the placenta is and how it can extraordinarily benefit a new mother and her baby.
After conception, the placenta is the main organ in the generation of new life. Each one is as unique as the baby itself. Every baby needs a strong, healthy placenta in order to have the best chance at surviving the pregnancy and birth. Reaping the powerful benefits of the placenta does not need to stop once the baby is born. It can be used to facilitate the woman’s postpartum recovery through ingestion, known as placentophagy. The placenta is grown in the womb and symbiotically integrated into a woman’s system. This gives it the incredible nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and hormones that a mother’s body needs to adequately recover and revitalize from the pregnancy and birth. Ingesting the placenta will give a woman the energy and resources she needs for the most important endurance challenge of her lifetime: motherhood.
Placenta therapy reactivates dormant cells within the body, thereby stimulating growth and function of existing tissue and repairing or regenerating old malfunctioning cells. The placenta provides the exact components necessary for injured tissue to heal and regenerates and stimulates the body’s own healing and revitalizing powers.
Placenta ingestion has the following benefits: Increased general energy, quicker return to health after birth, increased production of breast milk, decreased the likelihood of postpartum depression, decreased the likelihood of iron deficiency, and decreased the likelihood of insomnia or sleep disorder.
There are many options when it comes to how to ingest the placenta. Choosing an option will depend on your level of comfort and desire. Before discussing how it can be taken, it is important to know how to preserve the placenta directly after a mother has given birth to it. From the time it’s born, the placenta must be handled as though it were food because that is what it will soon become. Just as you would not leave a steak out on the counter for several hours, the placenta should not be left sitting out. It should go straight into a food-grade container. If the mother doesn’t have a special bowl set aside to receive it, it can be double-bagged in gallon-sized ziplock bags — anything that can be sealed to protect the placenta from the air. It should be refrigerated as soon as possible for maximum freshness. The preparation of the placenta, in whatever form the mother will be consuming it, should begin within the first 24 hours after birth.
You can also ask your nurse, doula, or midwife for help with this!
The most common way to ingest is placenta encapsulation. This involves the placenta being completely dried out, ground, and placed into empty capsules. The dehydration process done here preserves the placenta, allowing the mother to benefit from it for weeks instead of just the first few days postpartum. (you can research companies that do this prior to birth- some even come to your home or hospital)
The capsules can also be frozen, extending their use from weeks and months to years. Beyond the postpartum period, the capsules are beneficial for any stressful transition. Having to leave the baby to go back to work, a job loss in the family or a move can cause stress that can be helped with placenta capsules. Since the capsules also help with fatigue and milk production, they can be taken any time the mother feels worn down or needs to increase her milk supply.
Or consume your placenta raw. This is done by taking the raw placenta, chopping it into cubes small enough to fit into an ice tray. The cubes are placed in the ice tray and straight into the freezer. Then you can decide when to use the cubes, whether it be in your daily smoothie, soup, lasagna or chili.
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use the placenta to help balance a woman's hormones during menopause. You might want to save some of your capsules by freezing them for when you need support going through menopause. Your placenta contains your own natural hormones that are already perfectly suited for your system.
Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone. CRH is a natural stress-reducer and mood-stabilizer produced by the hypothalamus (“master” endocrine organ in the brain). During the third trimester, the placenta secretes an extremely high amount of CRH so that the levels in the bloodstream typically increase by threefold. It secretes so much that the hypothalamus detects the high levels and stops producing it.
After the placenta is born, it takes time for the hypothalamus to recognize the reduction in CRH and begin to produce it again. Women who experience postpartum depression have been tested to have lower than average levels of CRH, which triggers depressive symptoms. Since the placenta was the organ producing and storing CRH before birth, ingesting it after birth can stabilize levels of CRH, and consequently stabilize emotions in a new mother.
Iron. The placenta contains high amounts of iron. Low iron after giving birth has been linked with feelings of fatigue and greater instances of postpartum depression. Ingesting the placenta with bioavailable sources of iron can result in increased energy levels protecting a mother from depression symptoms.
Opium-like substances. These substances found in the placenta are activated during childbirth and can increase pain tolerance, which is very beneficial during the postpartum healing process.
Cortisone. Reduces inflammation and swelling, promotes healing, and lowers stress.
Sex Hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone found in the placenta contribute to mammary gland development in preparation for lactation. They also stabilize postpartum mood, regulate postpartum uterine cramping, decrease depression, and normalize and stimulate your libido.
Gamma Globulins. Are immunity enhancers that help protect against postpartum infections and support the immune system.
Hemoglobin. An oxygen-carrying molecule which provides a boost of energy.
Human Placental Lactogen (hPL). A hormone that promotes mammary gland growth in preparation for lactation in the mother. It also regulates maternal glucose, protein, and fat levels.
Interferon. Stimulates the immune system and protects against infection. (this can be helpful in cases where the newborn becomes ill & needs a major immune boost)
Oxytocin. The “love hormone” that is released during breastfeeding. It decreases pain and aids in mother-infant bonding, counteracts the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, greatly reduces postpartum bleeding, and enhances the breastfeeding let-down reflex.
Prolactin. Promotes lactation; increases milk supply.
Prostaglandins. Hormone-like compounds that regulate contractions in the uterus after birth, help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and has anti-inflammatory effects.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. Regulates the thyroid gland, boosts energy and helps in the recovery from stressful events.
Urokinase Inhibiting Factor and Factor XIII. Stops bleeding and enhance wound healing.
Stem Cells. Stem cells are the body’s master cells and can transform into almost any type of tissue – from brain cells to blood cells. (again, helpful for the baby in the future as needed as well!)
Vitamins B6. Aids in the making of antibodies.
Cytokines. Are fibroblasts that trigger cell metabolism healing and replace damaged cells and tissue.
The moment a baby is born, a mother is also born. At that moment a new mother experiences a physical and spiritual transition that changes her core identity. In preparation for this process, her body created the placenta from scratch to sustain her baby’s life. It is the fetus’ only source of food, blood, oxygen, and nutrients. That powerful woman sacrificed her own substances so that she could pass life on to another. In the same moment a woman shows her strength by birthing her baby, the placenta completes its cycle and dies to allow the baby’s first independent breath.
Due to its incredibly important role, some might wish to treat the placenta with respect and admiration for its accomplishment and meaning. To express gratitude, a mother can respectfully bury the placenta, returning the nutrients and its sacred energy back to Mother Earth, the creator of all physical life. Some might wish to carefully treat and use the placenta for its nutritional value by preparing the placenta for consumption, as has been done in Chinese culture for thousands of years.
The placenta holds rich emotional and spiritual stories. This is why many traditions believe placentas have their own spirit and an energetic body. The placenta is part of the consciousness of the whole mother-baby unit; therefore, the emotional and physical shift caused by the experience of giving birth may cause women to feel a genuine sense of loss of literally giving part of themselves for new life to exist. Engaging in a placenta burying ritual can help a mother move on from her pre-birth physical connection and any unhealthy emotional dependence between mother and child. It can be done with the whole placenta, placenta capsules, or even without the placenta if it is not available to the mother. If not available, a mother can bury objects or a pouch filled with herbs or flowers that represent her emotions and memories of her pregnancy and childbirth experience.