***WARNING: If you are at all squeamish about human placentophagy (consumption of the placenta), turn around, close out this window, and leave now as this may be TMI for you!
Well, eating – no; not exactly….more like ingesting, but we’ll get into that….
Last night before leaving a kindred gathering, I was talking to a few of my kindred about the next few gatherings I wouldn’t be able to attend – Imbolc being one of them due to my husband needing minor surgery next week and our Beltane/Walpurgisnacht Celebration as my due date is in fact April 30 – way too close to be 1 hour away from the hospital in which I’ll be delivering. We joked about dancing the May Pole that could be in turn be used as a birthing pole and have my baby right there. We started talking about The Bradley Method – classes and coaches, and I was like, “Yeah right! During my last 2 births, my husband just sat back across the room the whole time playing on his iPhone until it was time for the hard pushing!” To be honest, he was no help at all – totally clueless as to what to do or how to help me as I labored through the pain and showed no prior interest in even attempting to learn what it meant to be a birthing partner or coach…Woosah….anyways, back on subject…
That conversation made me think long and hard about perhaps looking into hiring a doula to assist me this time around. Granted, I was able to get through 2 other natural births without one, but ugh, just the thought of having to go through that again by myself fills me with dread….
As I was searching for and comparing doulas in my local area, I came across one local doula service offering something that I had never heard of before – placenta encapsulation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of the practice of women eating and sharing the placenta for nutritional reasons and could see and respect the practicality of said practice, but the very thought just quite honestly didn’t sit well with me. Even watching the scene in the movie Wanderlust in which Almond and Rodney come downstairs into the kitchen with a fresh placenta in a large bowl with a still attached newborn via umbilical cord announcing that a meal was to be made and shared with the house members was enough to turn my stomach. To me, it almost seemed like cannibalism. As I read on and started to do more research however, my opinion started to change…
Before I go any further, I want to touch on and address the issue of cannibalism. Some people believe that the eating of placenta is a cannibalistic act and is quite taboo with reasons ranging from ignorance on the subject to moral objections and religious beliefs. “There is the assertion that the placenta is part of the woman’s body. Actually, this is inaccurate. While there is a maternal component, placental tissue is mainly derived from the fertilized egg and carries the fetus’s genome…What about swallowing semen? Would that fit the definition of cannibalism?” What about exchanging and ingesting skin cells contained in body fluids while kissing or having sex? But let’s define what cannibalism really is: “Cannibalism is the eating of human flesh. Flesh is defined as being muscle and fat; placenta is neither. Cannibalism, by definition, is consumption of the flesh of someone or something that has been recently killed. Placentas, again, do not qualify.” Setting all preconceived notions aside, logically – does that fit the definition and criteria for cannibalism? No, I think not. I concur with Judi Selander’s conclusion: “…placentophagia is not cannibalism because it does not involve killing, nor the consumption of flesh which belongs to a deceased person. It does not present an affront to the dignity of the human person. Nor is placentophagia morally evil as long as the intentions and circumstances are either good or morally indifferent.”
So, now that that’s out of the way and we’ve determined that placentophagia is NOT cannibalism, let’s move on. Historically speaking, people from many different cultures have been consuming placenta for hundreds, if not thousands, of years! “In a 1979 volume of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, William Ober’s article ‘Notes on Placentophagy,’ evaluates the possibility that certain ancient cultures that practiced human sacrifice may also have practiced human placentophagy, including Egyptians, Tasians, Badarians, Amrateans, Gerzeans, Semainians. Human placenta has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine (TCM), though the mother is not identified as the recipient of these treatments. A sixteenth-century Chinese medical text, the Compendium of Materia Medica, states in a section on medical uses of the placenta that, ‘when a woman in Liuqiu has a baby, the placenta is eaten,’ and that in Bagui, ‘the placenta of a boy is specially prepared and eaten by the mother’s family and relatives.’ Another Chinese medical text, the Great Pharmacopoeia of 1596, recommends placental tissue mixed with human milk to help overcome the effects of Ch’i exhaustion. These include, “anemia, weakness of the extremities, and coldness of the sexual organs with involuntary ejaculation of semen.” Dried, powdered placenta would be stirred into three wine-cups of milk to make a Connected Destiny Elixir. The elixir would be warmed in sunlight, then taken as treatment. It is not known exactly how traditional this remedy was, nor exactly how far back it dates.
Ober also identified many cultures known to have practiced placentophagy for medicinal purposes, and one for its flavor:
Dried human placenta as medicine – Ziheche (紫河车)
The Araucaninan Native Americans of Argentina dried and ground a child’s umbilical cord, giving the child a little of the powder when it was sick.
In Jamaica, bits of placental membranes were put into an infant’s tea to prevent convulsions caused by ghosts.
The Chaga of Tanganyika place the placenta in a receptacle for two months to dry. Once dry, it is ground into flour from which a porridge is made. The porridge is served to old women of the family as a way of preserving the child’s life.
In Central India, women of the Kol Tribe eat placenta to aid reproductive function. Consumption of placenta by a childless woman, ‘may dispel the influences that keep her barren.’
The Kurtachi of the Solomon Islands mixed placenta into the mother’s supply of powdered lime for chewing with the areca nut.”
The benefits of placenta are quite amazing. “In Italy, women have been known to eat parts of the placenta to help with lactation. Hungarian women bite the placenta to expedite the completion of labor. And knowledgeable midwives in this country have their birth mothers take bites of raw placenta to help stop hemorrhaging, due to its beneficial oxytocin content.” 
From my research, benefits of consuming placenta or capsules include:
- Decreased risk of post-partum depression.
- Reduced risk of post-partum anemia.
- Increase in breastmilk production.
- Reduction in post-partum bleeding.
- Pain relief, and faster healing.
- Helps return the uterus to pre-pregnancy state.
- Gives you more energy
The known ingredients that give the placenta its healing properties are:
Gonadotrophin: the precursor to estrogen, progesterone and testosterone
Prolactin: promotes lactation
Oxytocin: for pain and bonding; produced during breastfeeding to facilitate bonding of mother and infant. In pharmaceutical form this is a very addictive drug because it promotes a feeling of connectedness with others
Thyroid stimulating hormone: boosts energy and helps recovery from stressful events
Cortisone: combats stress and unlocks energy stores
Interferon: stimulates the immune system to protect against infections
Hemoglobin: replenishes iron deficiency and anemia, a common postpartum condition
Urokinase inhibiting factor and factor XIII: stops bleeding and enhances wound healing
Gammaglobulin: immune booster that helps protect against postpartum infections 
Now, from what I’ve gathered, the eating of cooked placenta is comparable to liver. I CAN’T STAND LIVER! No matter how many different types of livers I’ve tried and how they’ve been prepared, I just can’t stomach the taste. And still, just the thought of handling and cooking placenta still grosses me out. Granted, it is more frugal and “magical” if you will – to bring it home and prepare yourself – investing your own energy into it and all. There are many sites and videos out there with directions on how to do your own capsules, recipes for preparing it and incorporating it into smoothies, lasagna, spaghetti, soups, stews, pies, sushi, etc. – yummy! 😛 – but damn….yeah, no thanks.
Fortunately, I was able to find a service that comes to the hospital and picks the placenta up to be processed who is offering one hell of a deal right now using the TCM (steaming it with lemon, ginger and green chili, dehydrating it, grinding it into a powder, and into empty vegetable capsules) that expires in a few days. I do not believe in coincidences, so I believe that I was meant to come across this and give it a try.
Based on my current situation – pretty much a single mother of a 5 year old and almost 4 year old as my husband is barely home; and on my previous experience with depression and having to resort to going on Zoloft after the birth of my second child to deal with a very bad bout postpartum depression, I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can naturally and spiritually to avoid going down that route again and make sure I’m taking care of my family. Who wouldn’t?
Am I going to tell my family? Mmmmmm, probably most definitely not, LOL! Based on their reactions to my decisions to have natural drug-free births, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and co-sleeping (my mother and grandmother would “jokingly” compare me to a cow, thought I was crazy, “felt sorry for me” for supposedly not getting enough sleep or thinking that my breasts were sore and “worn out” from breastfeeding, kept asking when I was going to start weaning, or move my kids to a crib…but they did manage to throw in things occasionally like, “I don’t know how you do it” or “You’re quite the little mother”.)
I could only imagine the shock and horror in their voice the next time I call home and tell them that I will be ingesting my placenta – actually, it kind of makes me giggle 🙂 And to be honest, I probably won’t even tell my husband as he gets really weird sometimes about such womanly things.