By Kira Kim
I recently got an email with the subject line: "Placenta."
I work with a lot of pregnant women and new mothers, so this particular tag didn't faze me. But the note wasn't about a client; it was about a new law in Oregon that allows mothers to take their placentas home from the hospital after childbirth.
Some hospitals already allowed this practice, but it was technically against Oregon's law prohibiting medical facilities from releasing medical waste, reports The Oregonian.
Amanda Englund of Placenta Power in Portland told me in an email that momentum is "building" for mothers to take their placentas home with them for therapeutic use. "I have seen the number of clients I serve double every year. More folks are learning about it through media sources and more mothers are sharing their experiences about how positive the effects have been on their recovery. The new law cements...this growing trend." (Want more proof? Kim Kardashian is considering it. And mean "Glee" cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester took her placenta home.)
OK, so now it's legal: power to the placenta in Oregon.
But why, you may ask, would anyone want to take home their placenta in the first place?
The answer is broad: sometimes it's a cultural thing, part of a long tradition, and sometimes it's extremely intimate and health-related.
A 2013 survey published in the journal Ecology, Food and Nutrition by anthropologists at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada asked 189 women who ate their placentas after birth (a practice known as placentophagy) "why they did it, how they preferred to have the placenta prepared, and if they would do it again. (An interesting side note on demographics: in this study, the majority of women who ate their placentas were "American, Caucasian, married, middle class, college-educated and were more likely to give birth at home.")
Researchers report that the top three positive effects of placenta consumption, according to participants, were:
(For the record, the top three negative side effects of placentophagy were: "Unpleasant burping, headaches, unappealing taste or smell.")
I was first introduced to placentophagy while living in China. A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner wrote me a prescription after I miscarried to balance my qi. As a Westerner I looked at him with a mix of sarcasm and confusion. He then explained that the medicine was actually placenta, dried, ground and taken in pill form. (This is called encapsulation — more later.)
I was not convinced about taking someone else's placenta, but he had me interested. Could my own placenta from future pregnancies be used for my benefit? It was then that I learned about the art of placentophagy and began to learn the ins and outs of this ancient practice, as well as it's benefits.
Upon returning to the U.S., I was surprised that so many American women were open to the practice. For the past two years, I've helped more than 100 mothers through this process.
Here's a little more detail on how it all works:
I pick up the placenta after it is delivered. I inspect it to make sure it is complete, separate the membranes and the cord and take the blood out as much as possible. It is then sliced and dehydrated for 8-12 hours.
I then grind it into a fine powder and encapsulate it. The average placenta produces 75-150 pills, though I've seen higher numbers in women who lead healthy lifestyles including whole foods diets, adequate rest and exercise. (If you are put off by the taste, don't worry, I can do a chocolate version — soy and gluten free — as well.) The cost is about $200 but I charge on a sliding scale.
I realize these numbers are relatively small, but Moms whom I have served have reported that the difference between their first postpartum period with no pills and this one is like night and day in regards to emotional stability.
In mothers whose newborns had a proper latch for breastfeeding, there were no reports of insufficient milk supply even after the six month follow up. More than 60% of moms I worked with wrote of increased energy.
And the process is much more palatable than it may sound. Here's one of my former clients, Eleanor Quick:
I appreciated very much that the placenta was processed away from our home and that the bottles were discreet and attractive. This was important as we share our kitchen with tenants. And the price was right too. From what I'd seen on line I thought I was going to have to skip encapsulation altogether or look into making placenta smoothies at home by myself... which I probably would not have been able to do in the end as it was grossing my husband out at the mere thought and I knew I wouldn't have the energy (or the taste buds) for it when the time came.
This new law in Oregon opens up the conversation about laws in other states. Currently Hawaii is the only other state that also explicitly allows the legal release of the placenta. Indiana is the only state that expressly refuses it. Other states take it hospital by hospital. In Massachusetts, most hospitals oblige the request as long as it is mentioned before labor or upon arrival.
I don't think this law will change a lot of the negative attitudes, or the gross factor, that is sometimes elicited by this practice, but I'm happy to see that it is making news and getting tongues wagging.
Kira Kim, a Certified Lactation Educator, labor doula and student midwife, is the mother of soon to be three and the owner of North Shore Birth and Beyond based out of Salem, Mass.