I once asked an obstetric resident what interested her in the field. She explained that she felt obstetrics was her best chance to discover something new. She told me there was still so much in this area that we just didn’t understand and felt being an obstetrician was her best chance to make an impact on medicine. Secretly, I hoped she would respond something along the lines of wanting to bring respectful care to women and babies, changing how we care for them both in our often medical-model machine of birth, but that’s a whole other blog.
This resident was mostly interested in unlocking the many mysteries in the process of making and birthing a human, and I totally get it. There is so much we are only beginning to know, let alone understand what our bodies give us. We have these incredible stem cells and know now that giving our babies the benefit of delayed cord clamping has far-reaching benefits. We are just uncovering the magic of the microbiome, learning the incredible complexity and benefits of the bacteria our body makes and how it benefits and protects us. And then we have placentas, an organ women make, grow just like our babies, and then birth just like them after, letting go of them when we don’t need them anymore. Yet, like our other newly discovered body benefits, we may not need them for survival, but can we benefit from them? According to research and scientific evidence, yep, totally with stem cells, and uh-huh, absolutely with the microbiome, but placentas? Many women say yes, consuming their placentas in the hours, days, and weeks after birth brought them measurable benefits.
“I initially didn’t put much faith in what placenta capsules could do for me, had them there if maybe I needed them, but really did I need them? When my milk came in and I had these feeling come over me, the only way to describe is just that it was overwhelming. Catching up with my doula about where I was emotional, she asked if I had tried my capsules. I hadn’t, but did then…and it really did help! I continued to take them regularly for a few days, I felt stronger about things-my hormones seeming to balance, my milk coming in steadily. I continued to use my pills, an all-natural nutrient-rich supplement of my own personal making. If I were to have another baby, I would surely do this again.”
Now my friend the OB resident would surely say we just don’t have the proof. The benefit in consuming placentas in the days and weeks following birth, with only anecdotal evidence to support it, will remain in her mystery bucket, most likely somewhere at the bottom. But, with so many women with so many powerful stories, it’s hard to just dismiss options, ignore what we are hearing from countless women and move on.
“As a breastfeeding mom of a toddler, my cycle can be pretty unpredictable still. I was struggling to fall and stay asleep I was in such discomfort. I called my PCP who I’ve been seeing regarding other concerns. He connected it to breastfeeding and hormonal issues. I looked it up online… lots said regarding hormonal issues and increased workouts. Reached out to my online breastfeeding group… same discussion regarding hormone issues. Then it hit me. I can fix this. I can regulate my hormones. I mix a dropper full of my placenta tincture into a glass of water and drank it. Within an hour my flow was cut in half. The next morning, I did the same and was back to a completely normal flow. The severe cramping had subsided too. My body grew an organ in order to provide my baby with nutrients and help him grow inside me. That same organ continued to pump until it was done supplying my baby with every last nutrient it had before being cut at the cord. Postpartum, my doula encapsulated my placenta, which I took, but after 6 weeks, I could use a placenta tincture. This tincture has been a godsend for stabilizing my mood in the postpartum period. And now… when I began hemorrhaging (menorrhagia), it stabilized me again. My own body provides for itself. I would strongly consider having a tincture made from your placenta. I am beyond thankful, I did. You can choose to encapsulate the rest, as well. (Please note as a research fanatic, there isn’t a lot of research showing any positive or negative findings regarding the consumption of a placenta.”
So, what do we actually know?
We Know mammals consume their placentas after birth. They will go out of their way to do this. It seems they have a strong instinct regarding their needs immediately following birth. We know the challenge of childbirth, the physical demands, loss of blood, and then the enormous hormonal shift, and we know the placenta has hormones, iron, and proteins and what these things can do for your body:
Prolactin– promotes lactation, enhances bonding instinct, increases milk supply
Prostaglandins– regulates contractions in the uterus after birth, helping uterus return to pre-pregnancy size, anti-inflammatory effects
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone– regulates thyroid gland, boosting energy
Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF) -stimulates the production of body’s natural opioids, reducing pain and increasing well-being
Cytokines– fibroblasts that trigger cell metabolism healing and replacing damaged cells and tissue.
“I suffered from depression and anxiety after the birth of my first child. I heard that taking placenta capsules could help. I admit it seemed weird to me, but honestly there isn’t anything I wouldn’t try to avoid that again. I was amazed at how it helped me. My second and third postpartum experiences were completely different and so much better than my first, and I truly believe it was taking my capsules.” Emily, Amherst, Elmwood Village, N.Y.
PLUS oxytocin, stem cells, vitamin B, vitamin E, and corticotrophin to reduce stress hormones, cytokines- fibroblasts that trigger cell metabolism healing and then last but not least estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, the trifecta to stabilize mood, contribute to mammary gland development in preparation for lactation, regulate post-birth cramping, decrease depression, and normalize and stimulate libido.
“My husband would come home from work and look at me and be able to tell if I forgot to take my capsules. If I was stressed or overwhelmed, the first thing he would do would get me water and my jar of capsules. I admit, I often wouldn’t notice, but he would see it.”
-Anna, North Buffalo
As a doula I always refer to evidence, I can’t give my opinion or advice, only options, so evidence is where I turn, but I also always appreciate what just makes sense.
I had a previous client tag me in a post recently. She was beginning to get what felt like a nasty cold. She took a few of her capsules, saved for use during menopause when she anticipated similar hormonal fluctuations to those she experienced after the births of her children. She decided to take a couple now to see what happened, and the cold never came. She felt better by the next day. She asked me if I felt the capsules helped, or if it was more likely just a placebo effect. My response was – who cares?
If this is all a placebo effect, it’s a pretty powerful one, and for countless women.
“My birth was so much of what I wanted, peaceful and empowering. I felt so good and strong after, invincible really, so I really didn’t think the capsules could add to that feeling. My feeling, soon after taking my capsules, can only be described as euphoria, an overwhelming feeling of peace and love. I didn’t think it could get better, and then it did. I still use them when I’m stressed, to take the edge off and bring me a sense of calm.”
-Amanda, East Amherst N.Y.
Is placenta consumption like some have claimed, simply a fad, with no real or measurable benefits? Or is it another powerful gift our bodies give us? The research is as anecdotal as the evidence women share over and over. So, we are left to wonder. There are so many beautiful mysteries in this process of the making and the bringing of the humans, so many gifts. I’ve witnessed this long enough to know we are given what we need to do this incredible work as women. So we use the things given and embrace what we have, the things we need. The definite answers may not come to us soon and are different for each of us. Some mysteries may just stay that way, only ancient secrets shared over generations, not yet or maybe never answered by medicine or science, but simply experienced, trusted, felt. So we explore our options, fortunate to have so many. We turn to each other for guidance in the things we just don’t know, find our own answers, and then trust in what we believe, allowing our own mysteries to unfold.