This post has been building up in me for awhile. And I feel it's time to say something.
As a busy certified placenta encapsulation specialist, I see a lot of families that come from a lot of different views and different circumstances. Sometimes I get clients that are so proud and excited to get their placentas encapsulated, and they share it all over social media and with their families. Other times, I get clients who would really rather just keep it quiet and request that I keep things quiet, not share why I'm there or what my title is when I arrive to pick it up, and to check in before I arrive to deliver it so they can make sure family is not present. I've also run into more extreme situations where nurses have literally had to sneak it to me without the dad knowing (not healthy situations, obviously).
Those situations get awkward for me. I hate having to take part in sneaking, but I'm often having to remind myself that--I'm doing this for her (and--it's not actually sneaking. I abide by HIPAA laws, away, so I am just extra protective of that privacy in these situations). She hired me. She is who I am serving. Not her mom. Not her sister. Not her partner. HER. Because it is her body, her birth, her recovery and her choice.
Placenta encapsulation isn't for everybody. And I totally get that. It's purely a personal choice. But it's important to remember exactly that: it is a personal choice, and the choice belongs to her.
I recently had a client call to cancel services, because her family made it very clear that they were totally against it and that she would not be allowed to bring that into the home. She told me that the family couldn't find any studies saying it was helpful or safe. So I spent a long time talking with her, sharing my own story, as most evidence is currently anecdotal. And I explained that there are several studies out there that have found benefit, despite mainstream news that indicates otherwise. And despite a more recent claim that was based on a very poorly controlled, very small-scale, very improper variables study (you can't determine iron effects when the placebo also contains iron!). After a nice long talk, and making sure she understands that she is free to cancel, I reminded her that this choice is not others' to make. We went forward with the process, and the family eventually supported her choice.
Let's look at what studies and reports have actually found:
The Effect of Ingestion of Desiccated Placenta on Milk Production
“All patients were given desiccated placenta prepared as previously described (C.A. II, 2492) in doses of 10 grains in a capsule 3 times a day. Only those mothers were chosen for the study whose parturition was normal and only the weights of those infants were recorded whose soul source of nourishment was mothers milk. The growth of 177 infants was studied. The rate of growth is increased by the ingestion of placenta by the mother… the maternal ingestion of dried placenta tissue so stimulates the tissues of the infants feeding on the milk produced during this time, that unit weight is able to add on greater increments of matter, from day to day, than can unit weight of infants feeding on milk from mothers not ingesting this substance.” Hammett, Frederick. S. 1918. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 36. American Society of Biological Chemists, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, original press: Harvard University.
(I hear a lot of concern about this one from lactation consultants)
The American journal of obstetrics and diseases of women and children
”It has been shown that the feeding of desiccated placenta to women during the first eleven days after parturition causes an increase in the protein and lactose percent of the milk… All the mothers were receiving the same diet, and to the second set 0.6mg of desiccated placenta was fed three times a day throughout the period. Certain definite differences in the progress of growth of the two sets of infants are to be observed. It is evident that the recovery from the postnatal decline in weight is hastened by the consumption of milk produced under the influence of maternally ingested placenta.” McNeile, Lyle G. 1918. The American journal of obstetrics and diseases of women and children, 77. W.A. Townsend & Adams, original press: University of Michigan.
Placenta as Lactagagon
“Powdered Placenta Hominis was used for 57 cases of insufficient lactation. Within
4 days, 48 women had markedly increased milk production, with the remainder
following suit over the next three days.” Bensky/Gamble. 1997. Materia Medica, Eastland Press, 549.
“An attempt was made to increase milk secretion in mothers by administration of dried placenta per os. Of 210 controlled cases only 29 (13.8%) gave negative results; 181 women (86.2%) reacted positively to the treatment, 117 (55.7%) with good and 64 (30.5%) with very good results. It could be shown by similar experiments with a beef preparation that the effective substance in placenta is not protein. Nor does the lyofilised placenta act as a biogenic stimulator so that the good results of placenta administration cannot be explained as a form of tissue therapy per os. The question of a hormonal influence remains open. So far it could be shown that progesterone is probably not active in increasing lactation after administration of dried placenta.
This method of treating hypogalactia seems worth noting since the placenta preparation is easily obtained, has not so far been utilized and in our experience is successful in the majority of women.” Soykova-Pachnerova E, et. al.(1954). Gynaecologia 138(6):617-627.
Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma
KRISTAL, M. B. NEUROSCI. BIOBEHAV. REV. 4(2) 141-150, 1980.
“Although ingestion of the afterbirth during delivery is a reliable component of parturitional behavior of mothers in most mammalian species, we know almost nothing of the direct causes or consequences of the act. Traditional explanations of placentophagia, such as general or specific hunger, are discussed and evaluated in light of recent experimental results. Next, research is reviewed which has attempted to distinguish between placentophagia as a maternal behavior and placentophagia as an ingestive behavior. Finally, consequences of the behavior, which may also be viewed as ultimate causes in an evolutionary sense, are considered, such as the possibility of beneficial effects on maternal behavior or reproductive competence, on protection against predators, and on immunological protection afforded either the mother or the young.”
Effects of placentophagy on serum prolactin and progesterone concentrations in rats after parturition or superovulation
Blank MS, Friesen HG.: J Reprod Fertil. 1980 Nov;60(2):273-8.
In rats that were allowed to eat the placentae after parturition concentrations of serum prolactin were elevated on Day 1 but concentrations of serum progesterone were depressed on Days 6 and 8 post partum when compared to those of rats prevented from eating the placentae. In rats treated with PMSG to induce superovulation serum prolactin and progesterone values were significantly (P < 0.05) elevated on Days 3 and 5 respectively, after being fed 2 g rat placenta/day for 2 days. However, feeding each rat 4 g placenta/day
significantly (P < 0.02) lowered serum progesterone on Day 5. Oestrogen injections or bovine or human placenta in the diet had no effect. The organic phase of a petroleum ether extract of rat placenta (2 g-equivalents/day) lowered peripheral concentrations of progesterone on Day 5, but other extracts were ineffective. We conclude that the rat placenta contains orally-active substance(s) which modify blood levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones.
Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia.
KRISTAL, M.B. NEUROSCI BIOBEHAV REV 15(3) 425-435, 1991.
Two major consequences of placentophagia, the ingestion of afterbirth materials that
occurs usually during mammalian parturition, have been uncovered in the past several
years. The first is that increased contact, associated with ingesting placenta and amniotic
fluid from the surface of the young, causes an accelerated onset of maternal behavior
toward those young. The second, which probably has importance for a broader range of
mammalian taxa than the first, is that ingestion of afterbirth materials produces
enhancement of ongoing opioid-mediated analgesia. The active substance in placenta and
amniotic fluid has been named POEF, for Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor. Recent
research on both consequences is summarized, with particular attention to POEF, the generalizability of the enhancement phenomenon, its locus and mode of action, and its
significance for new approaches to the management of pain and addiction.
Placenta for Pain Relief
Placenta ingestion by rats enhances y- and n-opioid antinociception, but suppresses A-opioid antinociception
Jean M. DiPirro*, Mark B. Kristal
Ingestion of placenta or amniotic fluid produces a dramatic enhancement of centrally mediated opioid antinociception in the rat. The present experiments investigated the role of each opioid receptor type (A, y, n) in the antinociception-modulating effects of Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF—presumably the active substance). Antinociception was measured on a 52 jC hotplate in adult, female rats after they ingested placenta or control substance (1.0 g) and after they received an intracerebroventricular injection of a y-specific ([D-Pen2,D-Pen5]enkephalin (DPDPE); 0, 30, 50, 62, or 70 nmol), A-specific ([D-Ala2,N-MePhe4,Gly5-ol]enkephalin (DAMGO); 0, 0.21, 0.29, or 0.39 nmol), or n-specific (U-62066; spiradoline; 0, 100, 150, or 200 nmol) opioid receptor agonist. The results showed that ingestion of placenta potentiated y- and n-opioid antinociception, but attenuated A-opioid antinociception. This finding of POEF action as both opioid receptor-specific and complex provides an important basis for understanding the intrinsic pain-suppression mechanisms that are activated during parturition and modified by placentophagia, and important information for the possible use of POEF as an adjunct to opioids in pain management.
D 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Not that you need any of that in order to support the mother in her choices. I share these studies for those who believe that this has never been studied, that it's just a "fad," that there is "no benefit," and for those who actually care to learn more and educate themselves on the subject--for their own benefit or for the benefit of a mother in their life who may want to participate or is already choosing to do so. Because when we stop learning, we start dying.
If you only walk away with one thing from this post, please let it be this: It's not about you. It's about her. Women who are birthing and postpartum need her friends and family to come alongside her in nothing but love and support, even if you disagree with her choices. As a doula, I also see all kinds of choices I would not choose for myself nor my own family. But you know what? I move on. Because it doesn't affect me. It doesn't affect my outcome. And because it's not about me. Please. Let's respect and support moms in this vulnerable and sacred time, and possibly even be open to learning something new. Instead of stating your opposition to her choices, how about asking how you can support her? Can you bring her a meal? Can you offer to do a load of laundry? Can you come over to just hold her baby so she can sleep or shower? Can you just love on her and her family? This is what we need to be focused on. Let's stop the choice-shaming and arguments over birth and parental choices. They are hers and hers alone to make.