All information is from the International Placenta and Postpartum Association (IPPA)
What is placentophagia?
Placentophagia is the process of a new mother consuming her placenta postpartum by either eating the placenta raw, cooked, in capsule form or drinking the juices from the placenta once it is cooked. This is not an issue for vegan mothers because nothing was harmed to bring about the organ meat for consumption.
***Your placenta capsules are a nutritional supplement and there are no guarantees that it will prevent postpartum depression and we can’t say that they will absolutely have a healthy milk supply. Placenta remedies are the best thing a new mother can give back to her body post birth, but can not be used to reverse present or predisposed issues.
Placenta capsules do not take the place of medical care and should not be used to treat severe anemia, inadequate milk supply, postpartum depression or anxiety***
The placenta postpartum is rich in iron. It is estimated that up to 50% of US citizens have some form of low iron or anemia. Replenishing so much blood, rich in iron, after birth is a large task to take on. Having low iron often results in lower hormone levels, fatigue, lack of concentration and depressive symptoms. In studies, women with postpartum depression given iron supplements improved greatly.
Why don’t we just give new mothers iron supplements? Why use the placenta?
In order to calculate if a mother has an iron deficiency and to what degree, each postpartum woman would need to have a full blood workup at multiple points postpartum. For the average American mother, this is an unrealistic expectation. The type of manufactured iron included in supplements is different and would be processed differently than the natural iron content found in the blood of a fresh placenta. The placenta contains natural iron that the mother’s body has created. Instead of running the risk of the mother taking too much pharmaceutical iron supplement, with the placenta, the body will not absorb and will get rid of any excess iron not needed.
In a study where women were given placenta to consume, 86% reported increased milk production within 4 days. Research is still being done to completely narrow down exactly which hormones react with human milk supply to give it a boost. Mothers who have experienced Toxemia or preeclampsia during pregnancy may find that their milk is slow to come in. Consuming placenta directly after birth has shown in many cases to help this.
"All patients were given desiccated placenta prepared as previously described (C.A. II, 2492) in doses of 10 grains in a capsule 3 times a day. Only those mothers were chosen for the study whose parturition was normal and only the weights of those infants were recorded whose soul source of nourishment was mothers milk. The growth of 177 infants was studied. The rate of growth is increased by the ingestion of placenta by the mother... the maternal ingestion of dried placenta tissue so stimulates the tissues of the infants feeding on the milk produced during this time, that unit weight is able to add on greater increments of matter, from day to day, than can unit weight of infants feeding on milk from mothers not ingesting this substance." Hammett, Frederick. S. 1918. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 36. American Society of Biological Chemists, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, original press: Harvard University.
"Powdered Placenta Hominis was used for 57 cases of insufficient lactation. Within 4 days, 48 women had markedly increased milk production, with the remainder following suit over the next three days." Bensky/Gamble. 1997. Materia Medica, Eastland Press, 549.
"It has been shown that the feeding of desiccated placenta to women during the first eleven days after parturition causes an increase in the protein and lactose percent of the milk...
All the mothers were receiving the same diet, and to the second set 0.6mg of desiccated placenta was fed three times a day throughout the period. Certain definite differences in the progress of growth of the two sets of infants are to be observed. It is evident that the recovery from the postnatal decline in weight is hastened by the consumption of milk produced under the influence of maternally ingested placenta." McNeile, Lyle G. 1918. The American journal of obstetrics and diseases of women and children, 77. W.A. Townsend & Adams, original press: University of Michigan.
Hormonal fluctuations looked at in direct research with postpartum depression has shown that the placenta contains hormones to assist in treating and preventing this disorder. During the pregnancy the placenta produces stress fighting hormones. Once the placenta is no longer present, it can take months for the brain and body to level out the hormones. During this time, the instability can cause depressive symptoms. By ingesting the placenta after birth, the mother is reintroducing these vital hormones to her body, until her brain signals its own production and can level it out on its own.
In some women consuming her placenta can actually cause issues with milk production and hormone stabilization. This isn’t the placenta actually causing the problem. There is almost always an underlying hormonal disruption which needs to be treated prior to mom starting her capsules. This can be done with herbs, Chinese medicine, acupuncture or pharmaceuticals. The placenta is not designed to reverse the effects of a hormonal imbalance that has occurred during the pregnancy.
Many new mothers feel depressed for weeks after giving birth. Physicians have vaguely attributed this malaise to exhaustion and to the demands of motherhood. But a group of researchers at the National Institutes of Health has found evidence for a more specific cause of postpartum blues. New mothers, the researchers say, have lower than normal levels of a stress fighting hormone that earlier studies have found helps combat depression. When we are under stress, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus secretes corticotropin releasing hormone, or CRH. Its secretion triggers a cascade of hormones that ultimately increases the amount of another hormone called cortisol in the blood. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels and maintains normal blood pressure, which helps us perform well under stress. Normally the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream is directly related to the amount of CRH released from the hypothalamus. That's not the case in pregnant women.
During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes a lot of CRH. The rise is so dramatic that CRH levels in the maternal bloodstream increase threefold. "We can only speculate," says George Chrousos, the endocrinologist who led the NIH study, "but we think it helps women go through the stress of pregnancy, labor, and delivery."
But what happens after birth, when the placenta is gone? Chrousos and his colleagues monitored CRH levels in 17, women from the last trimester to a year after they gave birth. All the women had low levels of CRH as low as seen in some forms of depression in the six weeks following birth. The seven women with the lowest levels felt depressed. Chrousos suspects that CRH levels are temporarily low in new mothers because CRH from the placenta disrupts the feedback system that regulates normal production of the hormone. During pregnancy, when CRH levels are high in the bloodstream, the hypothalamus releases less CRH. After birth, however, when this supplementary source of CRH is gone, it takes a while for the hypothalamus to get the signal that it needs to start making more CRH.
"This finding gives reassurance to people that postpartum depression is a transient phenomenon," says Chrousos. "It also suggests that there is a biological cause."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Discover COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
Research has shown that ingesting placenta increases the effectiveness of opioids. The mother would need to take much less pain medication to reach the same desired pain management. The women would experience less pharmacological side effects and better maternal responsiveness. This benefit of consuming placenta can be especially helpful for csection mothers, mothers with episiotomy or severe tears and postpartum for prolapsed uterus or cervix.
“The most general benefit of placentophagy, according to recent research, is that placenta and amniotic fluid contain a molecule (POEF, Placental OpioidEnhancing Factor) that modifies the activity of endogenous opioids in such a way that produces an enhancement of the natural reduction in pain that occurs shortly after and during delivery.”
Mark B. Kristal, "Enhancement of OpioidMediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia", Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 15: 425–435
Hormones Known to be in the Placenta
Oxytocin The feel good or love hormone. Creates feelings of bonding, pain relief, happiness and elation. Cortisone This hormone unlocks energy stored in the body and combats stress. (cortisol) Interferon This hormones stimulates the immune system to fight off infections while the mother is healing from birth. Prostaglandins Acts as an antiinflammatory. Hemoglobin Replenishes iron, stimulates iron production in blood. Urokinase inhibiting factor and factor XIII Lessens bleeding and promotes faster healing. Prolactin/HPL Stimulates healthy mammary function and milk production. The 3 Main Hormones in the Placenta are Oxytocin, POEF, and HPL.
There has been some discussion surrounding the idea that the progesterone found in the placenta plays a role in facilitating low milk supply. Although this has never been medically proven, it is a still something that many lactation consultants and even care providers discourage their client from doing.
Progesterone also known as P4 (pregn4ene3,20dione) is a C21 steroid hormone involved in female menstruation, gestational support and embryogenesis of humans and other species. Embryogenesis is the process in which the embryo forms into a living being. Like other steroids, progesterone consists of four interconnected cyclic hydrocarbons. This is an organic compound consisting of hydrogen and carbon elements. Once the placenta takes over the production of progesterone, it utilizes maternal cholesterol as the initial substrate, but an additional source of progesterone is milk products. After consumption of milk products the level of bioavailable progesterone goes up. Most of the produced progesterone enters the maternal circulation, but some is picked up by the fetal circulation and used as substrate for fetal corticosteroids. At term the placenta produces about 250 mg progesterone per day.
When a mother is consuming her placenta postpartum, such as in capsules, her body is not retaining enough progesterone to have a significant effect on her milk production. Even if the placenta did have a high amount of residual progesterone, many mothers are still able to breastfeed through gestation, when progesterone levels are highest. It would also cause an issue in mammalian species that eat their entire placenta raw immediately post birth. For animals, even though they are ingesting the placenta that has not been deconstructed during preparation and is very rich in progesterone, they do not suffer negative impact.
You also have to consider the way in which this natural progesterone is being taken into the body. When the placenta is embedded in the uterine lining, it is directly releasing the chemical compounds into the mother's bloodstream. When you are swallowing a placenta capsule, it is working through the various stages of the digestive tract, therefore being processed indirectly. The progesterone found in encapsulated placenta can boost natural serotonin levels and is designed to work alongside oxytocin postpartum, aiding the mother in bonding, energy and sufficient healing.