This article originally published in Fun & Fit Life Magazine, March 2010
The placenta is generally referred to as “after birth”, as though it were merely a remnant of the pregnancy. In this view, it completes its role of supporting the newborn baby and is rendered useless upon its birth. Simultaneously, over 80% of new mothers experience some form of postnatal mood disorder “after birth”. What if the placenta is exactly what the mother needs to help her through that initial birth recovery period?
By the time a mother is in her third trimester of pregnancy, she has up to three times the normal level of hormones in her bloodstream. The effect of this hormonal influx has been likened to taking a daily dose of Valium. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that helps regulate these hormone levels, goes dormant during pregnancy since the baby and the placenta have such complete control over the endocrine system. However, the vast majority of those hormones disappear within the first five days of giving birth, and it takes the hypothalamus up to three weeks to regulate her system again. This hormonal fluctuation is considered a main contributing factor in the onset of the baby blues.
Symptoms of the baby blues include mood instability, weepiness, sadness and anxiety. Considering this, the time it takes for her system to regulate itself can seem like a lifetime to a new mother. It is also the precious first weeks of her baby’s life, and can be stressful and exhausting without the added complication of a mood disorder. These women suffer through their postpartum recovery, wondering what is wrong with them. It is easy to get trapped in a vicious cycle of negative feelings, and family members are often at a loss for ways to help. Our society has come to accept this scenario as a normal part of the childbirth cycle. Fortunately, Nature has provided an easy and natural solution.
Women who practice placentophagy (ingestion of the placenta) after the birth report overwhelmingly positive postpartum experiences, and placenta encapsulation offers a palatable means of ingestion. The process involves drying the placenta, grinding it and putting it into empty capsules. In this way, the mother merely takes a few capsules a day for the first weeks postpartum.
The placenta contains a variety of vitamins and minerals that a woman recovering from pregnancy and childbirth needs; some of these include iron, vitamin B6, and hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and prolactin. Individually, these components have been shown to help relieve various symptoms of the baby blues. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has used placenta medicinally for centuries, and fatigue is one of the ailments it is commonly used to treat. Women who ingest placenta often report an increase in energy, which could be due to the high iron content.
Research has shown a correlation between iron deficiency anemia, fatigue, and postpartum depression.
With supplementation, iron and energy levels improve and the incidence of postpartum depression decreases. Since placenta contains large stores of natural iron and successfully alleviates fatigue symptoms, placenta can therefore eliminate those factors which contribute to the manifestation of postpartum depression.
I have personally experienced the benefits of placenta for postpartum recovery. I began taking my second daughter’s placenta in capsule form when I was about three days postpartum. The results were nothing short of amazing. Not once did I feel weepy, sad or overwhelmed. Instead, I was happy, upbeat, and energetic. This was in stark contrast to my first postpartum recovery, which was much more difficult.
After taking her placenta as capsules, Las Vegas mother Sarah Jones said, “The difference between my first two postpartum periods and the third was simply amazing! I felt more in control than I had with my first babies and so much happier. My four-year old daughter began to call the capsules “Mommy’s happy pills.” Having experienced the ‘baby blues’ with the first births, it was wonderful to simply enjoy my brand new baby without the negative feelings of anger, paranoia, and desperation.”
Placentas are not useless upon their birth. The placenta’s first purpose is to nourish the baby and bring new life into the world. Its final purpose is to nourish the mother and help her recover from the pregnancy while easing her transition to motherhood. We are denying ourselves of the optimum postpartum experience when we discard the placenta and view it only as “after birth”. After birth there is a new beginning and a major life transition. Mothers need all the resources available during this transition, and the placenta is the most valuable resource of all.