Placenta - Tree of Life
What an amazing organ!
The Placenta—an Unappreciated Organ
Of all the body’s organs, perhaps the one that best exemplifies selfless service is the placenta. Most people give little thought to the placenta, and few appreciate the marvelous complexity and profound importance of this organ that is discarded and forgotten after birth. While parents and loved ones lift joyful prayers of thanks for the safe arrival of their newborn, few think of thanking God for the essential services rendered by His marvelously designed creation - the placenta.
After the egg is fertilized, the placenta is the very first organ to develop. Recent studies show that when the fertilized egg divides to form the first two cells, one is already destined to form the placenta, while the other becomes the baby.
An Important Hormone-Producing Gland
As soon as three days after fertilization—weeks before the mother normally suspects she is pregnant—cells of the developing placenta, called trophoblasts, begin to produce hormones. These hormones ensure that the lining of the uterus—the endometrium—will be ready to receive the embryo’s implantation. Over the next few weeks, the developing placenta begins to make hormones that control the mother’s physiology in a way that ensures the proper supply of nutrients and oxygen, which are essential to the baby’s growth.
By about five days after fertilization the trophoblast cells, surrounding the developing embryo, begin to fuse together to form one giant cell with many nuclei. This cell is called the syncytial trophoblast. One of the first functions of this placental giant cell is to invade the uterine wall of the mother in an amazing process called implantation.
Prevents the Rejection of the Baby as a Foreign Graft
Although the developing placenta and baby implant within the thick nutrient-filled wall of the mother’s uterus, they are not actually part of the mother’s body. One of the placenta’s important roles is to protect the developing baby from an attack by the mother’s immune system, since the baby and the placenta are genetically unique and distinctly different from the mother.
It is still a mystery how the placenta prevents the mother from rejecting it and the baby as a foreign graft without shutting down her immune system.
After implantation, the placental giant cell “invades” the walls of several uterine arteries and veins, causing the mother’s blood to flow through channels within the cell. When the baby develops its own blood and blood vessels, the mother’s blood and the blood of the developing baby come into close association, but they never mix or come into direct contact. The syncytial trophoblast forms a thin, seamless, and selective barrier between maternal blood and fetal blood. All the critically important nutrients, gases, hormones, electrolytes, and antibodies that pass from mother’s blood to the baby’s blood must travel across this seamless and selective filter. Waste products in the baby’s blood must, in turn, pass across this filter to the mother’s blood.
The Placenta Does It All!
In order to appreciate the marvelous work of the placenta, consider this: while the unborn baby’s vital organs are developing and maturing, they (with the exception of the heart) are essentially useless. The placenta serves the functions of these organs by working in association with the mother. With the help of the mother’s blood, the placenta must function as the baby’s lungs, kidneys, digestive system, liver, and immune system. The placenta does this so well that a baby can actually survive until birth even when one or more of these vital organs sadly fail to develop in its own body.
During the later part of pregnancy, the flow of maternal blood through the placenta reaches a rate of about one pint (.5 liter) per minute. To allow an adequate surface area for exchange between mother’s blood and baby’s blood, the interface between the two is folded and amplified in a complex way that resembles the trunks, branches, and twigs of trees. There are typically about 20 of these tree-like structures (called cotyledons) in the mature placenta. The baby’s blood flows in vessels inside these cotyledons, whereas the mother’s blood flows all around the outside, like air blowing through a small grove of trees. The entire surface of all the tree-like cotyledons is covered by syncytial trophoblast, forming a seamless covering, which comprises a single cell with millions of nuclei. This means that the entire surface of the placenta is covered by one giant cell, which has a surface area of over 100 square feet.
written by Dr. D. Menton, Ph.D.
This Age-old Tradition Has Some Surprising Benefits
By: Amy Weekly
Placentophagia -- the pratice of eating the placenta -- has been observed throughout history in many parts of the world. In Western cultures, eating the placenta is often viewed as barbaric, but thanks to new information about the surprising benefits, there has been a recent push among young mothers to eat the placenta after giving birth. While many Western doctors discourage placentophagia with the claim that it carries no inherent benefits, studies have shown that eating the placenta can curb postpartum depression, replenish nutrients, increase milk production, and slow postpartum hemmorrhage. It is important to note that with some birth practices, such as lotus birth (in which the umbilical cord is left uncut until it dries and detaches naturally days after birth), eating the placenta is not possible due to treatment of the placenta. However, in instances such as this, the placenta may be used for other purposes, such as placenta art, or the ritual of burial.
Placentophagia may deter the onset of postpartum depression
The placenta contains high levels of various vitamins, such as B6, which can help curb postpartum depression. Eating the placenta enables the mother to "reclaim" these vitamins and put them to use in her own body. Placentophagia may also increase a mother's blood levels of a hormone known as CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone), a known stress-reducer. This hormone is normally secreted by the hypothalamus. According to a study performed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes so much CRH that the levels in the bloodstream increase threefold. However, it was also discovered that postpartum women have lower than average levels of CRH, triggering depressive symptoms. They concluded that the placenta secreted so much CRH that the hypothalamus stopped producing it (http://placentabenefits.info/medicinal.asp)." After childbirth, the hypothalamus doesn't immediately receive the signal to begin producing CRH again, which can lead to postpartum depression. Eating the placenta can raise a mother's CRH levels, reducing symptoms of postpartum depression.
Placentophagia may help replenish nutrients lost during childbirth
Human placenta is rich in various essential nutrients such as iron and protein. Placentophagia can help replenish these nutrients, which are often depleted during childbirth due to blood loss. This benefit of placentophagia may be especially important for vegetarian or vegan mothers, who may have slightly lower blood iron levels to begin with. (Many animals also practice placentophagia, presumably for this reason.)
Placentophagia can increase breastmilk production, especially in women at risk for low milk supply
For centuries, the Chinese have consumed the placenta as a way to increase insufficient milk production. In 1954, a study was conducted in which 210 women, expected to have low milk supply, were administered dried placenta. 86% of the mothers noticed a significant increase in milk production (http://placentabenefits.info/medicinal.asp). It follows, therefore, that placentophagia can be beneficial in stimulating breastmilk production, even for mothers who are not at risk for low supply.
Placentophagia can stimulate uterine contractions and slow postpartum hemmorhage
Oxytocin is a naturally-occurring chemical in the brain that stimulates uterine contractions that lead to the onset of labor. This same chemical also enables the uterus to contract and quickly return to its pre-pregnancy size, as well as slowing postpartum bleeding. Studies have shown that eating the placenta triggers the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream, enabling the uterus to quickly heal and tone itself after childbirth.
Does placentophagia carry any inherent risks?
Many doctors, especially in Western culture, have expressed some concern that eating the placenta may spread disease such as HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne illness. However, placentophagia is traditionally practiced only by the mother and not by other parties, so there is no risk of spreading disease. If she has a disease, she cannot reinfect herself, and if she is not currently ill, she cannot become ill from eating her own placenta.
Other than that, there is little risk involved in placentophagia. As with any meat, the placenta must be properly cared for before consumption. Fresh placenta may be eaten raw, but if the placenta is to be stored and used at a later time, it should be frozen or otherwise prepared to prevent bacterial infection.
It is important to note that with some birth practices, such as lotus birth (in which the umbilical cord is left uncut until it dries and detaches naturally days after birth), eating the placenta is not possible due to treatment of the placenta. However, in instances such as this, the placenta may be used for other purposes, such as placenta art, or the ritual of burial.
Jonna is birth doula, educator, mother, and traveler. She is a firm believer in the powers of the human body and feels that placenta encapsulation is just one way to capture and retain that power. To learn more, contact her at
firstname.lastname@example.org. or 612-232-2972, or visit her website at www.sacralbirths.com.
Outside the cities:
The Making of a Placentophagist
by Riley Powell
Why did I choose “placenta encapsulation” and become a placentophagist? Well, it started at our Hypnobirthing class. None of us were expecting to hear our teacher, an experienced labor and delivery nurse, casually ask:
“And how many of you are planning on eating your placenta?”
We all recoiled in disgust at what we thought was some kind of a birth joke.
“Oh, so you haven’t heard of placenta encapsulation...” She sighed.
What?! Is she serious? We gagged and erupted in nervous laughter. Little did we know, the joke was on us, and our naivety of this ancient practice in Chinese Traditional Medicine and many other cultures. No, we hadn’t heard of this. We barely knew what a placenta was. But, we were all instantly intrigued. What is she talking about? Why would anyone want to do this? How come we hadn’t heard of this before? We were clearly missing some body of information that had become obvious to her, and, so she assumed, to anyone planning a natural birth.
“Alright, let’s start at the beginning.” And she told us about how ingesting one’s placenta is the best natural prevention for postpartum depression (PPD).
That alone got most of our attention. It’s also a great way to help stop internal bleeding because of the prostaglandin and speed the shrinking and recovery of the uterus. For many women, it increases energy and boosts milk supply due to the oxytocin.
Putting the placenta back into our body began to sound like the perfect prescription for a bunch of potential ailments after birth.
She continued to tell us that people in other cultures appreciate the placenta in a variety of ways including eating it. And also many other mammals instinctively eat their placenta after giving birth. And why wouldn’t they? It is, perhaps, the most life-restoring thing they could eat. Afterall, that placenta just made a living being! And while it was making a baby, it was pulling nutrients from the body. Why let all that good stuff pass out of us and get thrown away?
By the end, it made sense to put back into our bodies some of what birthing just took out.
My husband, a physician who had never heard of this, and I, went home and researched placentophagy online and contacted our local “placenta lady”. Yes, this was someone who had chosen, as her life’s profession, to encapsulate placentas! These women exist in every major city. Ours did this for others because it made such a big difference for her; the difference between experiencing PPD for her first pregnancy without doing it, and not experiencing PPD after her second pregnancy when she ate her placenta.
Many doulas and midwives will prepare your placenta for you too. By having the placenta put into capsules by someone else, ingesting your placenta is no harder than taking a vitamin. The end result is that you get a highly personalized vitamin made from your body, for your body.
So, after hearing about the medical benefits of ingesting one’s placenta, our whole class made a complete turn-around. Many of us decided to do it. I am otherwise vegetarian, but now I make exceptions for placenta!
I thought the whole process of learning to appreciate placenta encapsulation was fantastic. The most noticeable effect was boosting my milk supply when I took the capsules. In addition to birth, learning about the benefits of placenta ingestion gave me a new appreciation for our amazing bodies. I plan to do it with all of my future pregnancies.
For further information, I found these two resources to be helpful for different reasons:
1) Placenta Benefits Info for technical health info, reasearch and testimonials. http://placentabenefits.info/
2) And this witty Time Magazine article “Afterbirth: It’s What’s For Dinner” helped me feel normal, even edgy, and gave me something funny and informative to send to all the friends who wanted to know what in the world I was doing and why. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1908194,00.html?xid=newsletter-weekly
For info about the benefits, I recommend the wealth of articles and info on the PBi articles page and their page of people's testimonials of how it helped them: http://placentabenefits.info/articles.asp
Blend and Dry Encapsulation Method
Steam Method: From www.euphoricbirth.com
Pregnancy is taxing on the body, even if the mother follows the best of health regimes. The theory behind placentophagy is that you are returning the nutrients lost during the birth process back to the body to aide in quick and smooth postpartum recovery.
The benefits of placenta encapsulation include:
- Decrease in baby blues and postpartum depression.
- Increase and enrich breastmilk.
- Increase in energy.
- Decrease in lochia, postpartum bleeding.
- Decrease iron deficiency.
- Decrease insomnia or sleep disorders.
The placenta's hormonal make-up is completely unique to the mother. No prescription, vitamin or herbal supplement can do what one placenta pill can. How amazing is that?
Also the first born male placenta is the most enriched.
Steamer for stove top
Fresh ginger and lemon
Cutting Board, I recommend disposable cutting boards from Cut N Toss
Dehydrator, I use a Nesco American Harvest
Food Processor or Coffee Grinder
Sanitizer and bleach
1. First take placenta, place in colander in sink. Rinse under cold water removing and blood clots. You can stab the placenta with a skewer to "bleed it".
2. Place on cutting board and severe cord at base. It may bleed a little bit.
2. If you are steaming it on the stove, wrap placenta membrane fetal side around placenta into a ball. Place lemon & ginger in water in steamer. Put placenta in steam basket and cover. Steam on medium for about 15mins on *each side*. Bleed whiling steaming. Slice up placenta into thin strips at this point. If you are using a low oven to dehydrate your placenta, set oven to lowest temp. It takes 6-8hrs to dehydrate depending on method used.
Bleeding the steamed placenta
Steamed sliced placenta. Try to keep all strips uniform in thickness and length so they dehydrate evenly. I would then cut these in half again.
3. Preparing dehydrator, lining trays with wax paper for easier clean up. Place in dehydrator for about 6-8hrs.
Dehyrated Placenta Strips. Anyone for placenta jerky? ;O) Make sure you break this up to smaller pieces so the grind easier.
4. Using a strong grinder (I use a food processor), grind placenta strips. I hear magic bullet works well. You may need to break dehydrate strips in half prior to grinding. I broke a coffee mill this way and had to "donate" my food processor to the cause. During the grinding process add dried herbs if desired. Per mother's request I will add St Johns Wort, Red Raspberry Leaf, Blessed Thistle, and/or Alfalfa. I call placenta powder that has been blended with herbs "Power Placenta Pills", they pack a punch!
5. Fill capsules. One placenta will yield *about 150 capsules*. I use capsule filler by Cap-M-Quick to make the process easier, it can be done by hand. I use capsule size "00". There are smaller size capsules available. The picture to the top is just placenta powder and herbs blended together.
The picture below is placenta powder blended with herbs.
6. Store capsules in refrigerator, they will keep indefinitely. How many to take in the PP period depends on the mother and her needs. I recommend 3 capsules twice a day for the first week, 2 capsules twice a day for the 2nd week. If mom is feeling run down, fatigued, low supply or emotionally fragile increase dosage. You can always take more a few months down the road if you need a "pick me up".
Containers they are stored in with instructions and benefits listed
7. Sanitize everything once while at mom's house. Spray with bleach solution and soak in hot water. Soak again in bleach solution and boiling water when you return home overnight and then run through dishwasher. I spray everything with a bleach solution and a Simple Green disinfectant cleaner. Make sure you spray work surface area too. You can lay out old newspapers, card board or a large garbage bag under work surface to help minimize clean up.
Where to find an "Placenta Encapsulator"
Google Maps Placenta Directory
Placenta Benefits Specialists
Also email doulas and homebirth midwives in your area to ask if they offer this service or know someone who does.
To offer Placenta Encapsulation as a service its not regulated you take a training course, belong to an organization or be listed in a directory.
HOPE THAT HELPS!!!
Cindy L. Collins
Mama and wife, doula, placenta lovin birth junkie, breastfeeding counselor, baker, coffee addict, christian and AP mama!
If you want to eat part of your placenta immediately postpartum, the easiest way to do that is with a smoothie. Here is how I do it:
1 part placenta, cranberry or grape juice, frozen fruit, chlorophyll and honey
Blend REALLY well. We may or may not have decided not to talk about what you are drinking. Drink it down and have a happy babymoon!
Each placenta weighs approximately 1/6 of the baby’s weight. Cut the meat away from the membranes with a sharp knife. Discard the membranes.
Placenta Cocktail: 1/4 cup raw placenta, 8oz V-8 juice, 2 ice cubes, 1/2 cup carrot. Blend at high speed for 10 seconds
Placenta Lasagne: Use your favourite lasagne recipe and substitute this mixture for one layer of cheese. In 2 tbl olive oil, quickly sauté meat of 3/4 placenta, ground or minced plus 2 sliced cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 diced onion & 2 tbl tomato paste, or 1 whole tomato.
Placenta Spaghetti: Cut meat of 3/4 placenta into bite size pieces, then brown quickly in 1 tbl. butter plus 1 tbl oil. Then add 1 large can tomato puree, 2 cans crushed pear tomatoes, 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tbl molasses, 1 bay leaf, 1 tbl rosemary, 1 tsp each of salt, honey, oregano, basil, and fennel. Simmer 1 1/2 hours.
Placenta Stew: Meat of 3/4 placenta in bite size chunks, 1 potato (cubed), 1/4 cup fresh parsley, 2 carrots, 3 ribs celery, 1 zucchini, 1 large tomato, 1 small onion. Dredge meat in 1 tbl. flour mixed with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp paprika, pinch of cloves, pinch of pepper, 6-8 crushed coriander seeds. Sauté meat in 2 tbl oil, then add vegetables (cut up) and 4-5 cups of water. Bring to full boil, and then simmer for 1 hour.
Placenta Pizza: Grind placenta. Sauté in 2 tbl olive oil with 4 garlic cloves, then add 1/4 tsp fennel, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp thyme, and 1/4 cup of wine. Allow to stand for 30 minutes, then use with your favourite home made pizza recipe. It’s a fine placenta sausage topping.
Placentophagy may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there are sentimental moms out there who are totally into the idea of placenta preservation – as a keepsake. In this case, a jar of formaldehyde will come in handy. There is also the option of drying and curing the placenta so that it may be used as a sleeping bag for your newborn baby, a handbag, a hot water bottle, or perhaps a hat or shower cap. Some parents may prefer to stick the placenta in a baby memory book and there is also the option of making a ‘placenta print’ or incorporating it into a work of art to commemorate the child’s birth.