The Oldest Natural Remedy: The Placenta

'Tree of Life' photo (c) 2006, Alexandra Campo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Post by Contributing Writer, Beth

Historical Background

Throughout history, the placenta has been respected and revered for its powerful healing abilities and function. Medieval people believed that the placenta nurtured an unborn child in both body and soul. Indonesians call it the brother or sister of the newborn, and the Balinese believe that it will meet them in the afterlife (source: Placenta: The Gift of Life, by C. Enning).

Today, though much understanding of midwifery and the traditional healing arts has been lost in the last few centuries, our culture is slowly seeing a long-awaited increase in popularity of these things. It is growing more and more common to hear of natural-minded parents using the placenta in various ways. I personally have friends that have buried their child’s placenta under a tree and those that have consumed their dehydrated placenta in the postpartum period to assist in hormone regulation, among other things.

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Plans for My Own Child’s Placenta

I am currently 34 weeks pregnant, and I plan to dehydrate the placenta from my upcoming birth, and encapsulate it. I will be putting small amounts of the powdered placenta into a capsule in order to take as a daily supplement. I will probably be doing it myself since we already own a dehydrator, and I plan to check into encapsulation at our local health food store. If not I can surely do it myself, since they sell the empty capsules.

Now if you’ve never even heard of consuming your own placenta, you may be thinking I’ve gone off the crazy-hippie deep end! Before you write me off as totally nuts though, let me tell you a bit about the benefits.

Medical Uses of the Placenta

Scientists have discovered that the placenta contains hormones that inhibit stress and trigger the release of endorphins (pg.17). It is also believed that placenta remedies after birth cause women to heal faster, feel stronger and happier (less mood swings due to the hormone regulation), and easier breastfeeding. Other conditions it can help include edema (swelling), elevated blood pressure, kidney issues, and toxemia in the mother, as well as colic in the newborn.

Enning writes that “a mature placenta contains a high level of oxytocin (often called the love hormone). Women whose milk lacks ocytocin because of toxemia, gallbladder disease or a stressful birth, can make up for it by using a placenta remedy.” (pg.22).

Other medical uses of the placenta are wide and far-reaching, and not limited to the mother. It can also be given to others suffering from a variety of conditions, such as whooping cough and other childhood ailments, skin conditions, diseases of the heart and circulatory system, such as heart attack and stroke, and menopause and midlife conditions such as dementia and osteoporosis.

There are regulations surrounding the medical use of placenta in counties around the world such as China, the EU, Japan, Cuba, Russia, and Mexico. There are numerous uses that scientists and medical professionals employ – from the more common hormone regulation to the treatment of cancer, AIDS, and MS, and many things in between. The United States (and Canada), however, have no recognition whatsoever of placenta medicine, either in pop culture or in law.

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Numerous Methods to Prepare the Placenta

There are many different ways that traditional cultures have utilized their placenta for medical purposes – from an ointment, bath, or compress, to a drink or smoothie, powdered capsule, or soup. There are even recipes for using it as a hair conditioner or facial mask. For those of us in North American culture who may be “icked out” by the very thought of consuming or using the placenta for any reason, the dehydrated and encapsulated form is probably easiest. That is what I plan to do.

Religious Controversy

There is some controversy among Christian circles claiming that consuming your own placenta amounts to cannibalism and is therefore forbidden by scripture, however when I did my own research into both sides of this issue I found that to be a completely uncompelling argument.

For one thing, cannibalism is defined as consuming human flesh from a dead person. The placenta is not medically considered to be flesh (which is usually defined as muscle and fat, of which the placenta is neither), and more importantly does not involve murder. For an excellent discussion of the theological and philosophical considerations of this practice, see this post from another blogger that I found during my research.

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Have you ever heard of the medical benefits of the placenta? Would you ever consider trying it?

Beth is a natural redhead, wife to a pilot husband and mama to (almost) 3 little ones. She is passionate about missions, motherhood, and finding the beauty in everyday life. She blogs from the Canadian prairies about the art and soul of audacious homemaking at Red & Honey.

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16 comments to The Oldest Natural Remedy: The Placenta

  • Liz

    I am glad to see you write about this! I am also considering ‘eating’ my placenta =)

    If I really think about it it does turn my stomach a little bit but with my first son I realize looking back that I did have some post partum depression… whether from the huge inevitable changes that come with changing from an independent, always running, on the go person, to a mother to a newborn (which is basically the opposite of that), or irregular hormones, or some combination…

    I had discussed this with my midwife at the time, and while she was supportive, she had done it in the past and it was too laborious for her to do regularly. In 2010, less than 2 years ago, there were no encapsulation ‘providers’ so I kind of just let it go. Now there is a group of holistic doctors that will do this for you for about $200.00 which is still expensive, but we are saving up for it. I think it will be totally worth it!

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  • Rebecca

    I gave birth at home 5 weeks ago and saved my placenta for smoothies. My midwife helped us prepare it. This was our first child, so I have nothing to compare it to, but my recovery has been amazing! I’ve had very little bleeding, only one or two hormonal moments and breastfeeding has been excellent.

    I was planning on doing encapsulation, but changed my mind after my midwife told me the benefits she’d seen in other clients who consumed raw placenta thru smoothies. She did a blind taste test for us with a smoothie that contained a piece of placenta and one that didn’t. I honestly could not tell the difference! For the first two weeks I had a smoothie everyday. Now I’m having them about once a week when I feel tired or a little emotional. The boost in energy is almost instant! I highly recommend it! If anyone has any questions, feel free to email me at rebeccaebtaylor@gmail.com!

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  • Laura

    I just had a baby 2 months ago and it was my easiest postpartum period ever! I try to explain it like we are on a mountain when we are preggo and then after baby is born we are basically dropped! Encapsulating my placenta allowed me to gradually come down the mountain. I also had a protein placenta smoothie after birth. My milk came in on day 2 and i stopped bleeding in 3 weeks. Both times were cut in half! I had to “hunt” somebody down to do this but well worth the money especially for my hubby and kiddos. they didnt have to deal with a crazy momma. I would recommmend this everybody even if you didnt struggle with postpartum depression.

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  • My experience had been that it really really helps at first but for me it was just prolonging the inevitable into a bigger crash than ever. What I have since figured out is that I seem to have a copper and estrogen excess which leads to a zinc and progesterone deficiency. This is quite common in north America especially. So the problem with the placenta was that while it was providing a lot of what I needed, I think I was also getting high doses of estrogen which I really didn’t need esp after the first few weeks. I also continued bleeding while I took it and my milk began to have a really unpleasant smell. So I am definitely an advocate of using the placenta this way, but I think it can only address some issues and postpartum wellness has so many differing factors. If there is an estrogen/progesterone imbalance, I don’t think that the placenta will help and as with my case may actually cause damage with out other hormonal and nutritional support. This is another one of those things that I wish there was more time and research given to rather than the ways that postpartum health is commonly dealt with.
    As for the prepping of it, it was seemed icky in my mind but actually wasn’t at all (I encapsulated). Well.ca sells gel capsules (gluten free) and has free shipping.
    I am so glad to see that you wrote about this!

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  • I’m 12 days post partum with baby #2 and we chose to encapsulate my placenta. This recovery has been much faster and easier so far, despite the sleeplessness and the exhaustion that come with caring for an infant and a 19 month old. I’ve pretty much stopped bleeding already, the weight is dropping off much more quickly than it did with my first, and I’ve got almost normal energy levels again – I was even able to work out today. Also, my milk supply is ROCKING this time around, which is such a relief.

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  • Rachel

    My sister and I are both pregnant… my sister’s due date is today and mine is in September. Both of us have milk supply issues and I have severe afterpains. We are hoping that the hormones in our placentas will be the ones we need to have a less painful post-partum period. Who knows!

    Anyway, we ordered 00 capsules and an encapsulator off of amazon for a total of about $30. I’ll encapsulate hers just as soon as I get that phone call and she’ll do mine this fall. We didn’t want to take the time to do it ourselves post-partum as I hear it is time consuming/a pain to get it into the capsules. Hopefully the encapsulator will help. (it’ll hold the little guys up for us at least!)

    You can check my blog in a few weeks – I’ll be blogging about how it goes after my sister gives birth! (breezysunday.com/blog)

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    Rachel Reply:

    @Rachel,
    Baby was born and stage one went great! We are doing the not-steamed version. Put on dehydrator yesterday – will go encapsulate today. Taking pictures!

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    Rachel Reply:

    @Rachel,
    Ok! Done!
    I love the tutorial on cafemom… she does the steamed version. I have a link in my blog to it. I did the raw version. It’s here: http://breezysunday.com/blog/2012/05/03/how-to-encapsulate-a-placenta/
    And ladies… placentas are bloody. Don’t read this blog if you’re in the first trimester or the sight of organs is too much. 😛

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  • Rachel

    Original poster… just crossed my mind that I am linking to my blog from your blog and that might not be polite. Especially if you’re doing your own post like this later. I won’t be upset if you delete the comments! :-)

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    beth@redandhoney Reply:

    @Rachel, Not offended in the slightest – you are more than welcome to post relevant links! I am off to check out your blog – I’m excited to learn more about it since I’m wanting to do it for myself in 5 weeks but I have no idea how!

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  • I would be happy to walk you through the process. My biggest worry when people process their own placenta is over doing a step and killing too much of the good stuff. Dehydrator shouldn’t be set too high, etc… You may also consider making a tincture as well! They’re wonderful to have when the baby goes through transitions or is ever injured.

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  • I encapsulated my placenta but since it was my first birth I have nothing to compare it to….however, my healing was amazing. I had no baby blues and I believe I stopped bleeding entirely at about 3 weeks (stopped really bleeding much sooner). I even had 3rd degree tearing. I definitely recommend encapsulation, even though only a couple very close friends, my mom and husband know I did it :)
    btw, do you plan on the raw method or traditional Chinese method? I had mine done half and half and I couldn’t really tell a difference.

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  • Jeanette

    Love that you wrote about this topic! My experience after the birth of my second (second of three kids) consuming the encapsulated placenta was not positive like most of the comments. It was prepared in the TCM method, and I have since found out that my estrogen and progesterone levels are out of balance. That said, I noticed an intense imbalance in my hormones upon consuming the placenta so I’m just assuming it was too much estrogen for my body to handle.

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  • […] wrote an article for Frugal Granola a few months ago on some of the history and benefits of placentophagy (the act of consuming […]

  • […] Frugal Granola contributor Beth of Red and Honey recently wrote about the benefits of placenta medicine. In short, some research shows that consuming your own placenta may have health benefits–including postpartum depression prevention.  I recently wrote an article about a placenta encapsulationist local to my area, and I’ve been researching and sorting through my own thoughts about placenta encapsulation this pregnancy. I’ll have a post on this soon–and Beth may even pop in for a guest post (although it may be a little while…she welcomed baby #3 this weekend!).  […]

  • […] wrote an article for Frugal Granola a few months ago on some of the history and benefits of placentophagy (the act of consuming […]

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