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Giving after-birth more than just an after thought

Written by By Tania Hoskings • Online since 15.01.2018 • Filed under Feature • From Sixteen - January to March 2018 page(s) 18-20
Giving after-birth more than just an after thought

It may be that the placenta is the only transient organ in the body –developing in a woman’s uterus during pregnancy only to be expelled during the final stage of child birth. However, it’s a true workhouse and sadly so little is understood about this humble organ.

We wouldn’t not be here if it weren’t for the generosity of the placenta – the temporary organ that gets little thought in pregnancy and then passes as a kind of birth ‘after thought’.

The placenta provides the growing foetus with all the nutrients and oxygen it needs, removes waste, and provides a barrier against bacteria and viruses; all while transferring crucial antibodies that help keep new babies safe after they leave the womb. The human placenta is immensely important because it affects pregnancy as well as lifelong health. Unlocking the secrets of the placenta may yield tremendous benefit for health and for science.

The Human Placenta Project aims to revolutionise our understanding of the placenta, and ultimately improve the health of mothers and children. The

Project participants believe that by determining how the placenta functions, one day this knowledge may help treat, and even prevent, a range of common pregnancy complications and provide insights into other areas of medicine and science, such as cancer treatment and organ transplantation.

Historically, the placenta has been called ‘the after birth’, with connotations of disgust and uselessness.

However, this is rapidly changing and there’s a calling for placental advancement in society from birth professionals and new mothers who argue that the gently-used organ is not bio-hazardous hospital waste but a tree of life that continues giving, even after its life mission seems to have been achieved.

Perhaps the modest placenta hasn’t fulfilled its purpose when the cord is cut?

Spiritual significance

Placentas carry a special spiritual significance in many native traditions: some indigenous tribes dry the placenta into the shape of a doll, which is said to house the child’s spirit counsel; the leader of a

Brazilian tribe is said to place his placenta out to bathe in the new sliver of the moon as a way of reenergising himself, with the placenta symbolising his external soul; in Bali the placenta is called the Ari-Ari and is regarded as the child’s lifetime guardian spirit; and in ancient Egypt the placenta even had its own hieroglyph. I read about someone who threw her placenta into the seal pit at the zoo and the seals ate it! The seal is one of her daughter’s totem animals.

The Hawai’ians say if you have a shark totem, drop the placenta in the ocean and the child will never drown but will leave the island as an adult. There is a long Celtic tradition where parents acquire a special tree or bush in honour of the new baby and then bury the placenta under the plant. In keeping with the heritage of returning its energy to the earth, the tree or shrub will reap the benefits of the placenta’s nutrients and parents can enjoy watching their baby and tree grow in unison. Modern medicine sees doctors banking umbilical-cord blood to treat genetic diseases with harvested stem cells.

Placenta as a medicinal supplement

The placenta is rich in nutrients that mothers can use to recover more readily after childbirth, and many women have found benefits from consuming their placentas. Placentophagy, or the consumption ofnthe placenta, is not new: societies from around the world have practiced it at different times in history for different reasons. But now modern first-world women are taking to it in record numbers. For some to saythat placentophagy is a recent trend, only explored since the 1970s, is inaccurate: a quick search reflects two articles in scientific journals appearing in 1954 and 1918 concerning the effect of placentophagy on the human milk supply. Zi He Che, the earliest

Chinese term for dried human placenta, dates to at least the 1500s, where it was mixed with human milk as an antidote for exhaustion. Mark Kristal has been researching the phenomenon of placenta consumption for over twenty years and concludes that it must offer ‘a fundamental biological advantage’ to mammals. This would stand to reason since humans are the only mammals who do not ingest their placenta.

Positive feedback

In 2005, Jodi Selander coined the term ‘placenta encapsulation’ and standardised the method of transforming the afterbirth into pills. Placenta capsules consist of a mother’s dried, ground afterbirth packaged into a clear pill no bigger than a regular vitamin supplement. While some mothers are uneasy, the ‘ick factor’ seems to dissipate when they see the final product – a simple pill they swallow – citing that ‘when someone actually shows you, it’s not something gross, it’s a miracle’, and that ‘when I heard the benefits first hand from within my own circles, it resonated’. The internet is bursting with mommy-anecdotes triumphantly proclaiming redemption from postnatal trials: ‘I think my postpartum bliss was largely attributed to the replenishing nutrients in the placenta, like iron’; ‘they’re happy pills, they’re made by your body, for your body. Why wouldn’t you want to try it?’; ‘For me, the decision to do it was a no-brainer, since I experienced the baby blues after the birth of my first child. I researched the benefits, figured it was natural and safe if handled properly. I don’t know if I could have ordinarily handled the stress, but I was in a great frame of mind and had the energy to take on our new life.’ A telling sign is that second and third time moms report overwhelmingly positive results when choosing to encapsulate this time round, in areas they struggled with when previously pregnant.

Expert support for placentophagy

Experts agree that the placenta retains hormones, and reintroducing them to your system is believed to ease postpartum and menopausal hormonal fluctuations. The placenta is known to contain high levels of iron, vitamin B12, and certain hormones.

Advocates cite that placentophagy helps mothers produce milk – referencing the 1954 study that claimed 86% of mothers experiencing lactation problems showed improved milk supply after eating freeze-dried placenta. Many midwifes also support their client’s inclination: ‘my clients consider this practice, and especially those with a history of postpartum depression and those who got no relief from antidepressants or who want to breastfeed and don’t want to expose their babies to medications. I have never heard a patient say she didn’t feel better after ingesting placenta. Whether this is because it works or is a placebo effect, if she can take care of herself and the baby, we are reaching the goal I am looking for’; ‘my clients are educated women who have done the research – they are looking for an alternative to conventional medicine and to take charge of their recovery postpartum’.

Around 80% of women experience some sort of postnatal mood disorder, the mildest of which is called the ‘baby blues’. Symptoms include anxiety, sadness and weepiness, and these negative emotions can last for the first several weeks of the baby’s life. With proper preparation, most women can maximise their chances of getting through the gruelling postpartum period with their emotional and mental health relatively intact. Several other birth professionals who work closely and long-term with new mothers have also seen the benefits of placenta encapsulation. Jenny is a lactation consultant who recommends encapsulation to her patients and reports positive results. She also consumed her own placenta. ‘When I was pregnant I craved organs’, says the one-time vegan and raw-foodist who now eats grass-fed and organic meat. ‘I’d find myself ordering beef hearts and marrow . . . so the placenta just made sense. The body follows the mind and even if it is 100% psychological, it has its purpose. I’ve seen people report fewer breast-feeding problems and higher energy, and that’s evidence enough for me.’

Benefits of placenta encapsulation

It’s also fascinating that the placenta is a haemorrhage preventer – you could chew a piece after birth to help reduce postnatal bleeding. Apart from raw placenta ingestion, encapsulation provides a less gooey, more shelf-friendly method to reap the after-birth benefits. In addition to turning your placenta into capsules, you can gain years of benefit from the ‘mother essence’ by steeping a piece of the raw placenta in high-grade alcohol, distilling placenta tincture. This elixir is used in addition to and long after the capsules are gone for psychological, mental and emotional instability, and may also be beneficial for treating PMS and menopause.

Amazingly, the tincture can benefit the child as a sort of personalised ‘rescue remedy’ that should last until they undergo a separation from the mother (for example, when first learning to walk, when weaning, or when going off to school or on a trip). After an initial period of taking their placenta capsules, women’s feedback is that it helps their bodies heal faster (hastening the return of the uterus to prepregnancy state), prevents infection, and eases their transition back into menstruation. These ‘happy pills’

plow all the nutrients and hormones back into your body in a form that is more easily absorbed by your system than synthetic store-bought nutrients and hormones, and can help avoid prescription pain medication by reducing postpartum pain levels.

Women who use placenta have said it makes them feel nurtured – nourishing comfort for their bodies during a time of incredible healing and changes.

In a nutshell (or rather in about 150 gelatinefree, tasteless vegicaps filled with steamed or raw dehydrated, ground placenta), there are convincing reasons to encapsulate:

• Decreases baby blues and postpartum depression

• Reduces post-natal bleeding

• Replenishes B vitamins and increases energy levels

• Helps the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy state

• Helps to balance hormones

• Replenishes depleted iron levels

• Decreases insomnia or sleep disorders

Placenta encapsulation honours your body’s amazing ability to grow life within you and gives more than an afterthought to the after-birth. Whatever your personal preference regarding the placenta, perhaps it is about empowering ourselves to tune into our bodies and engender a fundamental trust in our body’s ability to live our best lives.

Tania Hoskings is a proud mommy of three water-born babies and a fervent supporter of holistic, proactive care that lets our bodies support us in the way it knows best. Tania established Placenta Power, one of few encapsulation providers in South

Africa that encompass a holistic view of the natural-birthing journey within the realms of a professional service.

Her research blog on her website provides an educational debunk on all things after-birth.

Get in touch with Tania by emailing or visiting

Sixteen - January to March 2018

Sixteen - January to March 2018

This article was featured on page 18-20 of Babys and Beyond Sixteen - January to March 2018 .

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