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Why You Might Want to Eat Your Placenta

An expert gives us the When, How and Why for ingesting your placenta postpartum.

Why You Might Want to Eat Your Placenta

I am due at any moment with my first child. Part of my birth plan is to keep my placenta so that I can have it encapsulated to consume as part of my postpartum recovery regimen.

As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and a women’s health and fertility expert, I have been recommending postpartum placenta consumption for over a decade. Most women in my practice look at me like I’m crazy when I encourage them to keep and encapsulate their placentas, but there are many reasons to do so.

How to Do

First, let’s quickly get past the ‘do I have to handle my own placenta’ worry since the encapsulation part is quite easy. There are services out there, usually run by postpartum doulas. For about $300, they will come to the hospital, pick up your placenta (that has been placed in a cooler that you provide), take it away, dehydrate it, encapsulate it and return it to you the next day. So all you have to do is birth your placenta (which you will do anyway) and bring a cooler to the hospital with you. Easy peasy.

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Why to Do It:

As I said, I am practitioner of TCM and in the realm of the medicine I practice, ingesting one’s placenta post-birth has been recommended for the last several thousand years. In the TCM philosophy, the placenta is not only what has nourished your baby in utero—it is a major source of nutrients, namely blood, Qi (pronounced chee—which is the basic substance of life and where our energy comes from as seen in TCM) and essence (which, in TCM, is the equivalent of our genetic foundation; essence is seen to decline as we age and or with major health events such as pregnancy and giving birth).

So, as I was taught: the placenta is the best source of postpartum nourishment for a woman as she can literally take back in her own blood, qi and essence to speed her recovery from the taxing process of pregnancy and birth. Additionally, having this extra blood, Qi and essence from the placenta helps generate healthy, nutrient dense breast milk for the mother to share with her child. And, this extra source of blood, Qi and essence is thought to help ward off any postpartum health issues such as depression, fatigue and hormonal imbalances.

The Evidence:

Interestingly, the benefits of placenta ingesting that TCM has touted for thousands of years have made their way to the mainstream and now many people are following suit. To date, the evidence that speaks to the upsides of supplementing with your placenta post-partumly is mostly anecdotal. However, there are a handful of studies that have found that placenta ingestion helps with breast milk production, enhancing the nutrition of breast milk, mediating postpartum pain relief, restoring the original size of the uterus and balancing hormones. As well, upon nutritional breakdown the placenta has shown to be rich in amino acids, minerals, vitamins, protective antibodies, growth factors—all of which can help restore and regenerate health.

The Questions:

This may still sound a bit hokey to you, but if we look historically at other mammalian species, the placenta is most always ingested right after the animal gives birth to their young. Some believe these mammals do so for nutrition or because food is scarce and that well nourished humans don’t need to eat their placentas. But, who knows. The true benefits are definitely up for debate as there isn’t a ton of research out there. However, my 10 years of clinical experience--and gut instincts--tell me it definitely can’t hurt. The key is to pay attention to your body and how you are feeling. If you feel benefits from ingesting your placenta, then do it. If you are taking it post-partumly and not feeling the reported potential benefits then stop. It’s as simple as that.

Plan of Action:

If you do decide to eat your placenta, my recommended plan of action for post-partum placenta ingestion is:

  • Take about 1.5-4 grams per day of your placenta as soon as possible post birth. The key is to start on a low dose and slowly build up until you see desired results.
  • Take your placenta pills for only the first 14 days post birth, unless you are severely anemic, experiencing postpartum depression or lactation issues. Then continue to take them for another 7-14 days. Again, pay attention to how you are feeling and let your body be your guide.
  • Begin taking your placenta pills again when your period returns IF you are experiencing any menstrual irregularities such as erratic periods, pre menstrual syndrome or heavy bleeding. As well, if you are planning to conceive again, taking your placenta pills from the last day of your period until one to two days post ovulation can help improve your fertility.
  • Lastly, save some of your pills for when you enter into menopause as they are thought to help ease that hormonal transition.

One last thing to mention, in TCM, we don’t usually recommend placenta pills be taken on their own but in conjunction with an individualized Chinese herbal prescription. To further enhance the positive effects of taking your placenta and to aid in postpartum recovery, seek out the advice of an NCCAOM certified Chinese Herbalist NCCAOM.org.

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