So, after my fourth baby, my midwife almost immediately helped get my placenta prepped and I was on my journey to becoming a genuine supporter of what I had once found repulsive – placenta consumption. What happened postpartum surprised me. I had heard some people claim wonderful results from this practice, but since I couldn’t find much research on the subject, I wasn’t expecting concrete or obvious differences in my postpartum recovery.
The surprise was this: I had the happiest postpartum recovery I could imagine. There were no unexplained emotional tears or cry fests when my body adjusted to the post-pregnancy state. I felt absolutely wonderful and better than I could have ever imagined. I had energy and I was almost giddy with joy. Rather than tears, there were giggles and euphoria. My husband, who had laughed at me initially when I had mentioned that I “might” eat my placenta, noticed a huge difference in me. Eating my own placenta wasn’t something that I told everybody about – it does sound a little strange. But if somebody found out, I wasn’t embarrassed. I could truly say that it was totally worth it.
So, let’s discuss some of the reasons why women consume their placentas, how you can do it and who can care for it.
The WHY of placenta consumption
The practice of placenta consumption in the modern day is not yet very well researched, so many of these benefits can’t yet be proven scientifically but are those reported by women. I deeply value the wisdom of birthing women, and found their experiences to often mirror my own. In order to find what the majority of women find the most beneficial, I contacted Jodi Selander, the founder of the website Placenta Benefits.info to see what her experience was. She said that, “Women tend to report an increase in energy, an increase in milk production, and an overall feeling of well-being and calm after taking their placenta in capsule form. We have conducted a peer-reviewed research study on women’s experiences with placentophagy, and that data will be published this year in an upcoming edition of the Food, Ecology & Nutrition journal.” I am so excited that we will soon have more research supporting what many women have found to be true.
My personal experience with placenta consumption really highlighted the following benefits:
Emotional well-being: Many women notice that placenta consumption really helps ease the postpartum period and the emotional roller coaster that is sometimes experienced. In my case, all my babies were wonderful natural births, yet the only one where I experienced no postpartum hormone crash was my fourth, where I consumed the placenta. Sometimes women say that their partner is not supportive of placenta consumption or is disgusted by it. We must remember though that anything that eases the post-pregnancy transition is going to benefit the entire family, not just the new mother. This is something that the partner and other children will all enjoy and appreciate. Although I have to admit, it was the one thing I ate that no hungry children wanted to share with me!
Improved milk production: Some women notice an improvement in their milk production when they consume their placenta. This is no small thing for a woman who strongly desires to breastfeed her baby. I recently helped prepare a placenta for a woman for just this reason.
Good for the earth: Mammals often consume their placentas, and yet we as humans are often appalled by the thought. One important factor in my decision to ingest my placenta was a realization that came to me when I looked at the other supplements that I would take if I didn’t go the placenta route. As I read the ingredients, I discovered that many of them were made of animal organ meats. Why consume a supplement that requires bottling, shipping, and the environmental impact of raising and slaughtering an animal when I could get the same thing and know exactly what was in it? The answer seemed obvious: Using my own was going to have the lowest environmental impact of all. Even vegan supplements require shipping and bottling and other environmental factors. Using my own placenta was not only easy, it was all done within my own home. Normally postpartum, I was taking huge amounts of B vitamins to help regulate my moods and give me energy. During the time that I took my placenta powder, I felt no need. I was simply happier.
The HOW of placenta preparation
There are a variety of ways to prepare the placenta for consumption. I just want to give you a brief description of each so that you can look into things and decide what works best for you. It is probably best to prepare the placenta as soon after the birth as possible. If you are birthing in a hospital and there are a few days between the birth and when you go home, it is generally recommended that the organ be refrigerated or frozen (depending on the time lag between birth and preparation) then thawed before getting it ready. Check with your care provider before the birth to be sure that there are no problems with you taking it with you when you leave.
Totally raw: Some women plan on consuming the placenta immediately after the birth in order to minimize blood loss. (This is another one of the possible benefits of placenta consumption.) This can easily be done by just cutting off a piece.
Frozen: Another very simple way to consume the placenta is to rinse it, remove the membranes and cord, and then cut it into cubes and freeze. If you enjoy a morning smoothie, you can easily throw a piece into your smoothie each morning and mask it with some berries and a banana. This is fairly simple and quick and has the benefit of having no cost involved.
Raw dehydrated: After the delivery of the placenta, it can be rinsed, the membranes and cord removed, and then sliced into small pieces and placed in a dehydrator. If you don’t have access to a dehydrator, then it is possible to even do this in your oven on very low heat with the door propped open a few inches.
When you dehydrate the placenta like this, you can grind it into a powder and then encapsulate it. For most people, this is probably the best way to prepare the placenta because taking it in pills really removes any “ick” factor. You can grind it as simply using a mortar and pestle or you can use a high powered blender, a spice grinder, or a coffee grinder.
The raw dehydrated method was how I chose to prepare mine. It was fairly easy to do postpartum and consuming it did not bother me the way a totally raw meat would have. In preparing one for a friend, I found that it was fairly easy to find an encapsulating kit and empty pill shells at my local health food store. The encapsulating kit costs about twenty dollars and can be reused again if you make your own supplements with herbs from your garden.
Even if encapsulating isn’t an option for you, you can simply consume the ground powder by adding it to juice. It sounds a little gross, but that is what I did. It didn’t bother me because I felt so great every day after I drank my morning orange juice with placenta powder that it was well worth the “plug the nose, throw back the juice” ritual.
Traditional Chinese Method: Another way of preparing the placenta is the traditional Chinese method. This involves steaming it with herbs before the dehydration process. Though you could do this yourself with a little research, it may be worth hiring somebody if this was your method of choice. After the steaming, the placenta is also dehydrated and put in capsules for easy consumption.
Of course, some women choose to do a combination of some of the above, possibly consuming some just after birth in a smoothie to prevent bleeding, then preparing half in the traditional Chinese method and half using the raw method. You will know, with some thought, what sounds best to you.
WHO should prepare your placenta?
Women often ask me how to find somebody to prepare their placenta. There are a variety of ways. In my community, there are a few midwives and doulas who offer this as a service. Some are trained through a certifying organization like Placenta Benefits.info. Some are simply women who have read about or experienced the benefits of placenta consumption in their own lives and want to share that service with others.
I think one of the benefits of hiring somebody to prepare your placenta is that you and your family don’t have to deal with work that requires standing and some food type preparation just after childbirth. It can also be wonderful for a new mom to have somebody – maybe an experienced mother or birth worker – come to her home and just be there to assist and answer questions during the tender postpartum period. The person who takes care of your placenta may also be the listening ear you need or the person with just the right advice to help with your babies latch as your breastfeeding relationship grows.
Another option is to have family help you with the preparation. Often a supportive partner has no problem cutting up the placenta just after the birth and getting it ready for you, especially if they know how important it may be to the mother and the benefits that she may experience.
I was grateful for my midwife who, immediately after the placenta delivered, got it ready and going in my dehydrator. It does take a little bit of time to get everything ready. Though it isn’t excessive, it is not something that any woman should be doing just after birth. The powerful birthing woman deserves a little time to rest and connect with her baby while others care for her and her needs.
I ground my placenta myself the second day after the birth. Again, it took about fifteen minutes and wasn’t a problem to accomplish. If you were planning on encapsulating the ground powder, then it would be helpful to have a friend or hired professional take care of the process since the encapsulating takes some time, even if you have purchased a kit.
Again, loved ones would be capable of helping with most of this with just a little instruction and some dedication.
The cost of hiring somebody usually runs around a few hundred dollars if they are available locally for you. For many women this is well worth the peace of mind, the help, and the loving little things that they sometimes do. (Some will do a placenta print for you or other small but kind gestures that may help add some fond memories as you look back on the sacred time of birth.)
But if you are a mom for whom finances are tight, it is possible to do this yourself with only a little help from your loved ones. I felt the benefits of placenta consumption were so noticeable in my life that preparing the placenta of friends is a gift that I love to give them postpartum.
After my own experience with placenta consumption, I found my mind to be very changed. This is no longer a strange ritual that animals practice. Placenta consumption made a miraculous difference in my postpartum recovery. Never again will this be something that makes me wince when I think about it. Rather, this practice made what I was worried would be my worst recovery yet, better than I could ever imagine.
I hope that more women will find the joy and the ritual behind this ancient practice. While we are advanced beings capable of amazing things, we too can benefit often from turning back – towards the earth, towards our roots, and toward recognizing the healing power of the literal tree of life, the placenta.
May your journey be filled with joy, peace, and love as you welcome your children into the world.
Sarah Barre Clark is a mother of four children, ranging in age from seven to one year. She also enjoys working as a natural childbirth educator and helping other couples find the joy possible in euphoric birth. She is a board member of the birth education company Birth Boot Camp (birthbootcamp.com) which offers live and online classes. She loves writing and can often be found blogging at www.mamabirth.blogspot.com about birth, motherhood and all that is involved in the fun and the work of being a mom. She is married to a chiropractor and lives in Northern California.
Placenta: The Gift of Life by Cornelia Enning (Motherbaby Press, 2007)
Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra by Robin Lim (Bumi Sehat Foundation International, 2011)
Jodi Selander – http://placentabenefits.info