Placenta Encapsulation - Miracle Cure or Voodoo?

16 December, 2015

Moments after the birth of my son, our beautiful midwife was very keen to give me a detailed biology lecture on the state of our shared organ – the magical placenta. As I looked across the thinly splayed placenta, I couldn’t help but notice it’s similarity to beef cheek or some other kind of pummelled red mound in the fridge at Countdown. It had been a day of extremes and I didn’t want to spend too much time looking at it. She had it bundled away and later that year after a lengthy sojourn at the back of the freezer (clearly marked “PLACENTA DO NOT EAT”) we took it to a sacred place for us and buried it under a sapling.

Some relatives just could not understand this act. However neither of us wanted to just throw it out like the pulp from the juicer. So much goodness – but how to harness it?

On a recent yoga retreat to Bali I met a very interesting Hypno Birthing Teacher Helen who explained that the best way to get the most of our your placenta is to encapsulate it and eat it. Like many fringe remedies and already being a yogi, I had heard of it, but didn’t know the ins and outs, so was appreciative to meet Helen and hear her experiences. Also as I was in my first trimester (at time of writing I am now 21 weeks), and I find I’m much more open to hearing information like this during pregnancy compared to other times in life where it’s less relative.

The advice is that by taking your/your baby’s (slightly confused about ownership here) placenta it will help to balance your hormones, replenish depleted iron levels, assist the uterus to return to it’s pre-pregnancy state, reduce post natal bleeding, increase milk supply and reduce the risk of post natal depression. Sounds pretty good to me. However all of these claims are based on anecdotal evidence from women who have taken their placenta, rather than clinical research, which is basically non-existent.

In Chinese culture they have been encapsulating placentas since the 1500’s – that is before the advent of modern medicine. It is still practiced in Chinese Medicine today. It is also common in Hungary, Vietnam and Italy. Needless to say I had never heard of it growing up in Taradale, Hawkes Bay.

Helen had been offering hypno birthing classes for a long time before she started to offer encapsulating placentas for her students. The first time she followed the “recipe” was a nervous task. First the placenta must be dehydrated, which she did in the oven on a slow cook, anxiously peering in every few minutes making sure not to burn it. Once this step was complete she ground the placenta up to a dusty consistency using a mortar and pestle. Early in the morning her husband quietly popped up stairs to check on her as she carefully portioned the finely ground gold. She looked over with a smile of success as he went back to bed muttering “It’s official. You’re a witch”.

My conversations with Helen were so inspiring that I’ve decided to have a go with this whole placenta encapsulation rag and take it myself. After the birth of my son Theo I experienced the wild ups and downs of hormonal change in the body and if this is the miracle cure to avoid all that crap again, then hallelujah. Many of the women I work with post-natally through my yoga coaching programs also feed-back that the first few weeks and months of motherhood can be one of the most challenging times of being a parent, so being able to recommend another effective remedy from my own personal experience is always welcome.

This lead me to find local Auckland herbalist Wendy Lee, who is also a qualified midwife. Wendy runs an organisation called Placenta Tree, which offers a professional and qualified placenta encapsulation service. When I speak to Wendy on the phone her passion for placenta is obvious, she enthuses that “Humans are the only mammals that don’t do it, apart from Kangaroos who absorb it” I briefly ponder why in my nearly 17 years of formal education I was never told that animals eat their own placentas. Obviously dropping science after school certificate has not served me well.

I asked Wendy why there have been no scientific studies in to the benefit of consuming ones placenta. Unfortunately she feels that big pharmaceutical companies who would fund such studies have little to make. However she is optimistic about current scientific studies underway in the US by the PBI group about the benefits. PBI is an organisation run by a woman called Jodi Selander who is a leading advocate for placenta encapsulation in the US and who actually coined the term ‘placenta encapsulation’. You can read more about Jodi here.

I wasn’t surprised to read in my research on placenta encapsulation that Kim Kardashian has commented in the media that she ate her placenta –

Animals are doing it. Kim’s doing it. The curiosity is too much to bear!

I will be writing a post-baby report on my experiences with placenta encapsulation in approximately August 2016 and will be interested to see if there are any noticeable differences this time around. To sign up to my monthly newsletter and receive my blogs on wellbeing, motherhood, pregnancy, yoga and meditation please visit my homepage and enter your details

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