Eating Placentas: Is it ok?

After this story aired last week on a local TV station about the practice of placenta encapsulation, I watched the comments roll in on the piece itself and on posts to social media of the piece.  While the reporter herself did an excellent job on putting it all together, and some interesting claims were made by the women interviewed for the story, I felt compelled to take a step back and look at it from a very pragmatic perspective.  We are always talking about informed decision making in classes, and to do this, it’s very, very important to weigh out the benefits versus the risks.  So, in the interest of full disclosure, it’s not something I did after the birth of either child, and I set out to do enough digging of my own to flesh out a good pro and con list.

So, for potential benefits:

  • Reduces postpartum depression
  • Helps even out postpartum hormones, allowing for less night sweats, etc.
  • Decreases anemia
  • Improves milk supply
  • As well as others, depending on who you ask

The evidence on these benefits is, sadly, kind of thin.  However, unlike what was asserted in the news clip (and in the comment section), a tiny number of studies do exist, as explained and quoted in this great blog post.  And, yes, they happen to be kind of old.  One, from 1954, did try to determine if ingesting placenta will help increase a mother’s milk supply.  Nevertheless, it’s interesting that some tiny, positive links have been shown.

And, for potential risks:

  • The risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens
  • Any risk that comes from incorrect food preparation

And….that’s it.  That’s all I can find.  If you ingest placenta from a mother who is HIV positive, or has Hepatitis, then you are putting yourself at risk. And, just like any other kind of organ meat, it’s wise to store it in a refrigerator or freezer and prepare it in a clean environment.

OK then. It would seem, even if there’s only reported benefits with little as far as scientific evidence to back it up, they still outweigh the tiny, tiny risks of consuming your own placenta.

I asked Amber Morrisey, Canadian doula, educator, and student midwife (and more!), and author of a DIY Manual on placenta encapsulation, for her wisdom, since she has thought about it much, much more than I have.

To address reasons for consuming placenta, she told me,

Placenta Encapsulation is meant to be a preventative measure, in hopes that taking it as medicine soon after birth would reduce the chances of getting postpartum depression and increasing wellness all around after birth. Placenta pills are an alternative hormone therapy essentially, and are not meant to replace Western Medicine in the case of any illness. Women are fully informed of this prior to getting their placenta turned into capsules, and sign a waiver to indicate they understand that placenta remedies do not replace medical health care. The traditional medicine can be taken together with Western Medicine if desired.

Which, really, sounds completely logical. It seems pretty fair that a women might want to do something to improve her chances of having a positive postpartum, rather than not do something.  If ingesting her placenta is what she’s up to doing, well, ok then.

And, to address the “risks” of consuming placenta, she added:

A woman who isn’t carrying HIV or other blood borne pathogens may be interested in consuming their placenta some how after birth. Routine care in pregnancy would have both the mother and care provider aware of possible indications where ingestion wouldn’t be safe. Most hospitals allow women to take home their placenta, as long as it doesn’t contain blood borne pathogens, greatly reducing any potential risk.

So, opinion moment. The risks of ingesting your placenta, as presented in the story and elsewhere, do strike me as overwrought.  A mother knows her infection status.  And, as Morrisey states, a hospital would need to make sure there was no risk of HIV or any other disease transmission when allowing a mom to keep her placenta.  The idea that a mom could put herself at risk of disease by consuming something that came from her?  Not very logical.

Now, look, just like most everything we touch on, I’m not saying every family has to do things a specific way (Well, except car seats.  At BabyLove we DO think everyone needs to use them correctly, end of story.). But rather than just dismiss something that we don’t understand fully, if no harm can come from the practice, then there’s no need to condemn it.  When Brittany was studying for her Lamaze exam, we had an interesting discussion about different things educators and doulas teach families.  Not everything can always be evidence-based.  There are stretches that we encourage mothers to try, different comfort measures that can help with leg cramps, and a few other things that can come up (putting soap under the mattress, anyone?) that, if you think about it, might not be 100% scientifically proven, but they do help some women with few, if any risks.

Finally, it’s important for childbirth educators to address this issue in a respectful manner.  There are certainly some cultural aspects to the practice that might not make sense to everyone.  What also struck me after reading through hundreds of comments on the subject, is that many of the arguments against placentophagy could easily be arguments that have been made against breastfeeding in the past. But, we know more now about how vital breastfeeding is, both to a new baby and a new mom, and it’s certainly possible that in 30 years we’ll be in the position to discuss placentas with more information.  Until then, we need to listen to and respect mothers who choose the ingest their placentas, and make sure they are making an informed decision on how to do so safely, if that’s what they want to do.

Comments?  Questions?  Leave them below!

Warmly,

Veronica

Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE
Birth Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators

Opening BabyLove in September of 2011 has allowed me to build a space where all families can come to get good information in a caring, welcoming environment. I have found that not only do I love teaching more than ever, but I also really love running a business. Hopefully my passion for every aspect of BabyLove shines through.
I live in Richfield with my husband, and I am a mother of a two great children. When I can steal a few free moments, I love to go on adventures with my family, cook, garden, thrift, can, and craft.

Video: The cost of cloth diapers

Recently, we headed on over to Peapods in St. Paul to add up how much it would cost to buy cloth diapers to use on a child that would go from birth until potty training.  We used the baseline (and middle of the road advice) of 24 diapers to figure out how much a specific brand/type of diapers would run.  A common issue is that families only see the large total, but we don’t think they understand how easily those disposables can add up to serious bucks.  In the most drastic match up, it would only take 3 weeks of buying “eco-friendly” diapers to equal how much money it costs to buy 2 Econobums starter packs.  Yes, we know there are so many ways you can cut costs, but we needed some base numbers! Hopefully you find the video helpful.

And remember, we have a very helpful, all-inclusive Cloth Diapering and Babywearing Combo class that will walk you through ALL your options and help you figure out how to care for your cloth investment.  It’s a small price to pay to eliminate the frustration and exhaustive work of doing the research yourself.

Anyway, ENJOY!

Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE
Birth Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators

Opening BabyLove in September of 2011 has allowed me to build a space where all families can come to get good information in a caring, welcoming environment. I have found that not only do I love teaching more than ever, but I also really love running a business. Hopefully my passion for every aspect of BabyLove shines through.
I live in Richfield with my husband, and I am a mother of a two great children. When I can steal a few free moments, I love to go on adventures with my family, cook, garden, thrift, can, and craft.

Tips For Writing a Birth Plan

First of, let me say this:  I know you can’t plan your birth.  You can’t decide it’ll last only 20 minutes, or that you’ll only push twice.  Do you know this?  I hope you know this.  Rather, a birth plan is a tool that should be used by a mother to sort out her options and to communicate those preferences to her care provider.  While she can not plan what will happen, she can give a good amount of thought to how she will handle what happens.  Also?  I believe very, very much that it’s something that should be done no matter the place of birth.  Even moms planning home births need to think about what they want or don’t want.  So, after giving much thought over the last couple of days as to what makes a birth plan good, and what can make it very, very bad, I give you the following advice:

DON’T: Go to a website that “writes” a birth plan for you by having you check off a couple of boxes that sounds good.  Why?  Well, it comes across that you put very little thought into writing your birth plan.  Also, you can end up “choosing” things that are not even an issue at your desired birth place (like saying you don’t want to be told what to wear during labor at a home birth).  However, if you feel completely stuck, you can check out one of those websites for some ideas, just make sure you rewrite things in your own words.

DO: start with an introductory couple of sentences. Think along the lines of: This is my second birth.  My first birth was very long, and very difficult, with many things that felt like I was not listened to.  I am hoping for a much calmer, more supported birth. Or whatever fits your specific situation.  Make it short, to the point, and applicable to this birth. It will help the people who are part of your birth team know very quickly what you are looking for, which means that (hopefully) they will be supportive of where you are physically and emotionally, not where they think you should be.

DON’T introduce anyone and everyone in your life in the birth plan.  A birth plan is not an autobiography.  Please don’t use it  to introduce the nursing staff to your cats, or your turtles, or your childhood home that you haven’t been to in 25 years.  And for goodness sakes– no pictures of these things!

DO keep the information relevant.  If there is something about your medical history that is relevant to this specific labor and birth, include it.  Yes, it’s in your chart…somewhere.  But save everyone a headache and confusion and include that important information right at the top of your birth plan. Have you already met with an anesthesiologist and found out that you are not, for a specific reason, a candidate for an epidural?  Include that!  Is the father of the baby not participating in the birth because of religious or cultural reasons?  Include that! Trust me, it will save so much time and frustration of everyone is, almost literally, on the same page.

DON’T make your birth plan more than a page long, two at the most.  Very important information gets lost in long birth plans, and it can seem like not much actual thought went into writing the plan.

DO make sure only time-specific information is in the plan.  Don’t bring a plan to the hospital that talks about laboring at home (or how long you’ll wait before calling your midwife for a home birth). You do need to think about things like that, but it can end up burying the more relevant information.

DO write out a really long plan, if you feel you need to.  You can include things like how long you want to labor until calling your doula, or at what point you want to o to the hospital, or fill up your birth tub at home–whatever.  But then sit down with someone and go through that list with a very critical eye, and think, “What will people need to know at the time?” Then start to cut things out, leaving a shorter version.

DON’T list things that are not done at your chosen place for giving birth. If they don’t do routine IVs, don’t say, “I do not want a routine IV.” On the flip side, be reasonable.  Don’t list things that just CAN NOT happen, like, “If I have an epidural, I do not want an IV.”

DO take good, comprehensive childbirth classes so you can understand all of your options and help you understand how to avoid those things you do not want.  So, for instance, if you don’t understand why IVs might be used, you might need a class.  If you were never told the many different ways an induction might be done, you need a better class.  This might ruffle a feather or two, but knowing about something doesn’t mean it’ll happen.  Ignorance IS NOT bliss.  Hopefully there are things you’ll never need to go through, but knowing about them, just in case, is always a good idea.

And finally:

DON’T assume that writing something down means that it will be so.  Make sure that your care provider (and, since most people see a group practice, ALL the possible providers) will take the time to listen and respect your voice.  There is nothing sadder to me than telling families prenatally to address specific things with a care provider, only to watch those parents find out that  Midwife X won’t allow it, or Doctor Y doesn’t believe in it while mom is in labor.  Yes, you are the patient, but birth time should not be battle time, and if there are options, find the very best care provider to fit what you want.  And yes, it is worth it.

Quickly, in my opinion, what should a birth plan touch on?

  • support people
  • environment
  • comfort measures
  • labor positions/ tools
  • medication preferences
  • pushing and birth positions
  • newborn procedures (right after birth and the few days after birth)
  • post-birth maternal procedures

I’m sure I missed a thing or two (or three).  What do you think?  What tips would you add?  What else do you think is a MUST INCLUDE?  Add it in the comments below!

Warmly,

Veronica

Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE
Birth Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators

Opening BabyLove in September of 2011 has allowed me to build a space where all families can come to get good information in a caring, welcoming environment. I have found that not only do I love teaching more than ever, but I also really love running a business. Hopefully my passion for every aspect of BabyLove shines through.
I live in Richfield with my husband, and I am a mother of a two great children. When I can steal a few free moments, I love to go on adventures with my family, cook, garden, thrift, can, and craft.