Friday, March 15, 2013

Placenta Encapsulation: Is It A Gimmick?

I recently read a blog post over at The Primal Parent: 

I would like to respond to it here as she does make some good points, but there are also areas where my opinion differs.

Her post is entitled "Why I Did Not Eat My Placenta." She begins by saying how much she wanted to consume her placenta following birth, yet sometime in the two weeks following birth, she never found the time (hint: why you hire someone). She was blessed not to struggle with any issues following the birth and therefore her body recovered like it's designed to and she did fine. Our bodies are miraculous. They will recover from childbirth because they've been designed to. But what about the women who do struggle with issues postpartum? What if the placenta is something that can aid in the transition?

She states that two weeks later when she went to check on the placenta, it repulsed her. She didn't want to have anything to do with it. Of course not! A two week old placenta that has just been sitting in the refrigerator is no longer viable for consumption. It's the same as having a piece of meat sit uncooked in your fridge for too long; it would turn your stomach too! The placenta needs to either be frozen within 48 hours after birth, consumed raw or cooked in it's entirety or encapsulated within that 48 hour window.

She then moves on to state her wonderment if it would do her harm to ingest the placenta now that she believed her hormones had balanced out. Well, I can say that it would do her harm to eat what was essentially a rotten piece of meat. I have to wonder, however, how do you make the determination that your hormones are completely balanced and evened out two weeks postpartum? Someone doesn't have to be symptomatic of a hormonal imbalance to need more recovery time than that. Experts say it can take a year to completely recover from childbirth and there is a 6 week postpartum minimum for a reason...

Six weeks interestingly is how long the placenta capsules typically last, in perfect harmony with the usual recommended postpartum recovery period.

One more thought about harmful hormones... There is nothing in the placenta capsules that can harm you! Men who have even taken the placenta capsules report more energy and a balanced mood without ill effects. Iron, B vitamins, and yes some hormones are thought to be contained in the capsules, however, all these nutrients are in a natural form. This is not the same thing as overdosing on synthetic hormones. If the body doesn't need the extra hormones, it can alter it's functions and account for them or excrete them without ill effect. The point of the hormonal boost in the capsules is that around day 4 postpartum, women do experience a dip in their hormones, which is a typical time for the "baby blues" to show up because the body has not yet resumed the hormonal production the placenta took over during pregnancy. The capsules are providing a more gentle transition. The body can recover on it's own, but some women struggle with it more than others.

Then the author of the post continues to wonder why encapsulate a placenta and consume it weeks or months into the postpartum for an organ that does it's purpose and then becomes obsolete. (Of course, this is one of the arguments that's out there: does the placenta become obsolete or does it serve a purpose even after birth, and obviously, it does for every other mammal that consumes it following birth instead of discarding as biohazardous waste). Her solution to her question: it must be because someone is making money off placenta encapsulation. She believes it's a gimmick.

How sad...

There are lots of things people make exorbitant amounts of money on... pharmaceuticals, health "sick" care, the food industry, but placenta encapsulation? No.

If I was into encapsulating placentas for the money, I'd clearly be illiterate about money. I could be working as a nurse right now (my professional training) and be making a minimum of 60K a year in my state. The small amount of money I make encapsulating placentas doesn't come close. Why then do I choose to do this instead? Because I believe in it. I didn't believe in what I was doing as a nurse. But I feel strongly about women having access to placenta encapsulation in my area. I am well-trained. I follow standardized methods, and I can provide a safe and valuable service to new mothers. And this is exactly the reception I get from moms who are relieved to have found me in their area. The truth is that we encapsulate because there is a social prejudice to placentophagy. Women have not been raised in our society to be open to consuming raw placenta. It's just not something we're used to. In the same way, most women eat meat, yet don't feel particularly compelled to tear apart the flesh of a raw animal themselves as true carnivorous animals do. So, encapsulation makes consuming the placenta more palatable for most women and then they still get to experience the benefits of something they wouldn't be open to any other way. And if I lose a little business to a mom who wants to consume her whole placenta raw in the 48 hours that follow birth, well I say awesome and more power to her! I can live with that.

Another reason we encapsulate the placenta has to do with the principles of Chinese medicine, which are time tested by thousands of years and science is beginning to catch up and confirm the Chinese knew what they were talking about. If you read the blog post, be sure to read some of the comments that discuss this. Consuming the placenta in capsule form as the Chinese prepare it balances the body's chi or energy flow. It is for more reasons than simply hormonal or nutritional to the Chinese. The Chinese also believe in principles of hot and cold. Childbirth is a cold experience as the baby leaves the womb and leaves an empty space there energetically. The capsules have warming properties that replace this loss of energy. Obviously, a more in depth discussion is beyond the scope of this post, but the point is that it does have merit.

The last assertion by the author? A healthy diet serves the same purpose. I so wish this were true, but my opinion differs once again. First, I will point out that for most of the women in our country, there does leave a lot desired in the area of diet and health. We do our best, but most women aren't extreme health nuts. So, even if an extremely healthy diet could serve the same purpose as placenta encapsulation (something I hope I've disproven with the above paragraph), shouldn't women who are just average with their health still be able to experience the benefits of a good recovery?

About 6 years ago, my husband and I cleaned up our lives considerably. We became those extreme health nuts. We cut out everything from our diets that wasn't fit. We switched to predominantly organic fruits, veggies, legumes, and nuts. We cut out all eating out and prepared or boxed foods. We gave up meat. Our diet was whole foods. We took up juicing. We gave up all sugar. We cut out all dairy for a time. I had heard over and over again that a healthy diet could fix anything! Our bodies can heal themselves if they just have what they need. I expected extra weight we were carrying to fall off with our new healthy diet and exercise. I expected my nose allergies to clear up. I expected stomach aches I'd had as a kid to go away, food allergies would be gone. I truly believed that I would never have to get sick again. This is the propaganda out there. I bought into it. I cut out all synthetic chemicals. We bought organic sheets and mattresses, clothing and natural cleaning products. If anyone was gung ho about being natural, primal, it was me.

While my husband and I still adopt this lifestyle and I do still believe in the benefits, I was dismayed when almost none of my health problems cleared up with the extreme changes I'd made. I went back to researching health. I found that health is waaaaaaaaay more complicated than simply a healthful diet. I learned it's also impossible to live completely purely, unexposed to anything harmful, in our world. While the things I learned about health over this multiple years journey is way beyond the scope of this post, I can say that I no longer buy into the notion that diet is everything. It's important, I'll give it that, but does it completely take the place of placenta encapsulation? Does a healthy diet fix everything placenta encapsulation may help with? Does a healthy diet account for genetics completely? No. It doesn't.

So, while this one momma of this one post lives healthfully and felt she could recover without her placenta, it doesn't mean the practice is obsolete for all women. And as long as there are women out there who desire to encapsulate their placentas and continue to report to me the benefits, then I'm going to keep doing what I doing and educating women on the benefits. For all those women out there who have tried it, they know the truth. Perhaps that's why we don't hear negative things said about placentophagy. I don't think I've ever heard even one negative thing or a mom I've encapsulated for who wished she hadn't. So before you judge whether or not it's necessary, perhaps you should experience it for yourself. Wouldn't an opinion like that be more credible?

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