You ate WHAT?!

Did you know what some mothers are choosing to consume their placenta? It's true. When others find out about this one of two things usually happens: (1) utter disgust or (2) fasination and curiosity. Either way I'm sure you are wondering why they ate I right? Here is one mamas reason behind her choice:

When I was pregnant with my first child, I received prenatal care at a large OBGYN practice and received typical large practice, “mainstream” care. Short appointments, many invasive tests and checks and the urging of a scheduled c section for the delivery of my “very large” baby. At 39 weeks, that baby was born, via scheduled c section and after meeting him in the operating room, I did not see him again for several hours. My recovery was difficult, both physically and emotionally. Breastfeeding was difficult at first, largely due to the swelling and separation during his first hours of life. Physically, I was extremely swollen and sore for many weeks. But with the blessing of extended time off from work and help from family and friends, I was able to begin healing both physically and emotionally.

When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, my son had just turned two. During those two years I had met many new friends and through them had learned a lot about what pregnancy and birth should be like. I began to heal from the trauma of his delivery and as I talked and read and learned more, I knew that for this next baby, my care, pregnancy and birth would be very different. I was receiving prenatal care from a wonderful midwifery practice and taking a BirthWorks childbirth education class with my husband as we prepared for my VBAC. Tiff Hare of Karma Birth Services was both our childbirth educator and friend who had just begun providing placenta encapsulation services to her clients. I knew of the many benefits, I had read and learned about placentophagy during my journey in learning about birth and the women’s body, but I still was not completely sure it was for me. I spoke to my midwife about it and she encouraged me to consider placenta encapsulation and assured me I would be able to bring my placenta home from the hospital. My husband and I read and spoke about it and decided that with so many benefits, particularly during the postpartum healing period (not forgetting that I would also be caring for a toddler as well as a newborn), I decided to have my placenta encapsulated.

Why ingest your placenta? I certainly was not about to reveal this to my family and many friends. It’s considered taboo at best and disgusting to most and there has been no systematic research done on the practice. But as I had learned during the two years of learning and healing after my first child’s birth, there is always a benefit to learning more and more importantly, in trusting the human body. Placentophagy is the act of ingesting your placenta. Almost all mammals do it. The placenta is rich with iron, estrogen and progesterone. Ingestion of the placenta can help the mother heal physically from birth (both vaginal and surgical deliveries), help mothers deal with the emotional mood swings, and in some cases, post partum depression, and many mothers report an increased milk supply. The placenta can be consumed raw (often in a smoothie), cooked and eaten, made into tinctures or salves or dehydrated and encapsulated into pills. I chose the latter, and three days after my birth, had a jar full of placenta pills dropped off to my home. For the first few weeks after the birth of my daughter, I took several pills a day. After about a month, I began to take them less often, but on particularly emotionally or physically rough days, I would take a pill to help my energy levels or to help fight off the anxiety.

My daughter was born via c section after a long, post dates, induction of labor. I was not anticipating dealing with the baby blues, as I did not experience them with my first child. But after returning home two days after her birth, on nearly zero sleep over the span of four days, I was expecting my physical and emotional self to have a long road to healing. Immediately, I noticed the benefits of placenta ingestion. My physical recovery was fast and easy compared to my first birth, even though I was now caring for a toddler and a newborn. Over the coming weeks though, I would be even more thankful for my decision to encapsulate. My daughter had many gut and reflux issues in her early days and we spent many, many hours pacing the floors day and night as she screamed in pain. Exhaustion and anxiety crept up quickly. During the day I could be distracted by caring for both children, but as night crept in and I knew there were still many hours of screaming, nursing and pacing ahead of us, the anxiety would take hold. On the nights I remembered, I would take a placenta pill early in the evening. The burst of energy and calming effect would help me get through the stressful nights. On evenings when I did not remember, the nights would feel endless and I would be tense and awake for all hours with a ball of stress in my throat. Even still, the next morning I would often remember to take a pill and they would give me the energy and clarity to get through the day. For me, placenta pills did not keep anxiety completely at bay, but they were part of my survival kit (along with support from my midwife, friends, family and most importantly husband). Never could I have anticipated the experience of suffering from anxiety post partum, but I am completely thankful that I chose to encapsulate. Now, thirteen months later, I still have a handful of pills in my freezer. I’m not sure what I am going to do with them, but they were so important to my physical and emotional health, I am not ready to use them up.

If you are considering placenta ingestion, I urge you to read and research, but also to talk to other women who have ingested their placenta. The placenta is an amazing organ, dubbed the tree of life, it not only nourishes our babies in the womb, but it can continue to nourish us through the transition of early motherhood.

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