With the birth of our second child, we decided to go the Birthing Center route after having a less than ideal experience in a hospital the first time around. You can read about my two very different birthing experiences here. I am so glad we made that decision, because the birthing center we used was excellent and took care of us very well. When you start to explore more natural and holistic methods of doing things like childbirth, you are presented with ideas that you may have never even considered before. Things like consuming your placenta after delivery. I can honestly say that before going to the birthing center I had never heard of such a thing. However, when it was presented to me as an option I thought it was worth some research.
I delved into researching the concept full steam ahead, as I tend to do with any interesting natural “health advice”. I was fascinated to learn that ladies who consumed their placentas reported having much less post partum depression, increased milk production and more energy. I was also surprised to learn that a majority of mammal females also eat their placentas right after giving birth. Although I did read accounts of some folks grilling it (yes, I do mean BBQ style), I was definitely leaning more towards the idea of encapsulation. This is where an experienced placenta expert will take your placenta from the birthing center/hospital in a ziplock bag and then dehydrate it out into a powdered form and then put the powdered placenta into capsules that the mother can take daily with water. Pills just sounded a little easier to stomach in my mind. After reading about numerous accounts from fellow birthing center mothers who had taken placenta capsules post partum and felt wonderful, energetic and upbeat I thought it was worth a try. After getting the hubby on board we started to look at options for Placenta encapsulators in our birthing center area. It turns out that there were a few to choose from but none came more recommended than a lady who went by “the Placenta Lady”. Given the high praise of her work, and the authoritative name, we went for it.
So after giving birth at the birthing center and having sat with the placenta awhile before cutting the chord, the midwife asked what we were doing with it and I said, oh it’s going to the “Placenta lady” so the midwife put it on ice in a cooler for us. Since the birth happened at around 3 am, we waited until the next morning to have my husband meet with the “Placenta lady” and give her the goods. It was delivered to our home a few days later, wrapped in a beautiful gift bag with tissue. I almost forgot what was supposed to be inside and half expected a candle or some bath salts from the wrapping!
I was eager to start the placenta consumption so I took the first dose right away. I was ready to feel a bit more energetic (nursing a new born is no joke). I hadn’t experienced any post partum depression as yet, but I figured a boost in mood would be welcome as well. Funnily enough the next day I noticed I felt a bit down. I chalked it up to sleep deprivation and kept pounding back the placenta pills. After about a week I was definitely experiencing some depression. I felt awfully sad and just “off” in a way I hadn’t experienced at all with my first birth post partum. I added 2 and 2 and thought, could it be my precious placenta? No, surely not. I dialed back the dosage just in case and lo and behold I felt a bit better. So then I stopped taking the pills all together and felt wonderful. My mood lifted back up and I didn’t feel an overwhelming sadness anymore. Also interesting to note, although I never suffered from low milk supply with either of my babies, I had initially found it harder to have enough milk with the second birth (with placenta capsules) than the first and the milk production noticeably increased after stopping taking the placenta pills.
I didn’t think too much about it at the time, I just knew that for whatever reason, my body did not seem to like the placenta so I threw all the pills away. It was a waste of money yes, but I just couldn’t justify making myself feel so awful while trying to support a new life. I just knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do at the time. Much later on, a good friend of mine who had given birth at the same birthing center and who had a very similar experience with placenta encapsulation alerted me to a very interesting article by a Nurse and Lactation Consultant, Sarah Hollister RN, PHN, IBCLC, who had been noticing a link between low milk supply and patients who were consuming placenta capsules. This is how she explained the hormonal process:
“We know very well that the dominant pregnancy hormone, progesterone, inhibits the dominant lactation hormone, prolactin, from binding to the prolactin receptor sites, thereby inhibiting milk production during pregnancy. A woman’s milk comes in at approximately three days after the birth because of the rapid drop in progesterone due to the expulsion of the placenta from the body. This is the hormonal trigger that allows prolactin levels to rise and milk production to begin. If there are retained placental fragments in the uterus after the birth, a woman’s milk is likely to be delayed coming in because of the inhibitory effect of the progesterone on prolactin, thereby halting Lactogenesis II (i.e., the onset of copious milk production on day 3 after the birth). Estrogen is the other dominant hormone of pregnancy, and it is also a potent suppressor of prolactin during lactation. When a nursing mom gets pregnant with a new baby, her milk is at risk of drying up due to the hormones of the new placenta growing.”
Sarah Hollister now advises her new mothers to not take placenta encapsulation and states that, “there are no valid research studies that prove that placenta consumption either improves or suppresses lactation, but that risking milk supply is not a decision to be taken lightly and that my colleagues and I are seeing a concerning trend.”
Finally, this mystery was starting to make sense to me. I thought that I was just strange, or perhaps something was wrong with me or my placenta. Some women may very well have a positive experience with this for it to have become such a trend. For me, however, that was just not the case. If you are interested in reading more, here is the full article by Sarah Hollister.