Uses for Placenta and Membranes

Midwifery Today E-News, October 11, 2017 • Volume 19, Issue 21
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“Our prime purpose in life is to help one another. If you cannot help one another let’s try not to hurt each other.”
—Dalai Lama

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Jan’s Corner

Placenta for Hemorrhage Control and Other Practical Uses

Editor’s Note: Jan was in Finland so she asked us to share this letter from Ibu Robin Lim, of Bali, Indonesia, on practical uses for placenta.

Dear Jan,

I have used the placenta quite effectively to slow down postpartum hemorrhage. Also to help nourish and support the mother who has bled a bit during the birth.

I never seem to think of using the membranes, but upon Gail Hart’s advice, I will try that next time. It makes perfect sense, as often postpartum hemorrhages are caused by retained trailing membranes—so giving the mother some membranes to ingest would, of course, be the “similar” to cause release of any membranes left inside. Brilliant.

Many years ago, I shared the story of ingesting a bit of placenta to stop postpartum hemorrhage with my own midwife from Maui. She made a funny face and expressed some disgust. I proudly let her know that it was my own “lola” Filipino grandmother, Vicenta, a traditional midwife in the mountain province of Luzon, who told me the placenta saved lives. My lola practiced midwifery before, during, and after WWII, when there was no hope of transport to any hospital. She was renowned for her skill at safely receiving babies and serving mothers.

At Bumi Sehat there is always honey in the birth rooms, because a tablespoon or two of real wild honey can give a mother the energy she needs to bring her baby. We work with many malnourished mothers and, believe me, honey does help. If the mother is willing to ingest some of her baby’s placenta, we put a tablespoon of honey in a cup, with a cotyledon or two of the placenta. The honey makes it very nice for the mother to eat. So far, no mothers have complained that eating placenta was unpleasant. The Traditional Chinese Medicine way is to dust the cotyledon of placenta with powdered cinnamon, to make it more palatable and digestible.

Love, Ibu Robin

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My Experience with Placenta Encapsulation

by Valerie Coppenrath
from Midwifery Today, Issue 123, Autumn 2017

I innocently accepted the magazine from the friendly receptionist at my chiropractor’s office, not realizing what would be in store for me in its pages. I was six months pregnant with my second child, seeking evaluation and treatment for some odd upper back pain. The adjustments were actually helping, so I sat back and passed the waiting time by reading. I discovered a menu of complementary practices for pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. The pharmacist in me almost involuntarily evaluated the risks and benefits of these practices. Belly wrapping? Delivering with your bag of waters intact? Fascinating, but definitely not things I seriously considered.

One practice caught my eye—placenta encapsulation. The article made an interesting case for it, noting that many animals consume the placenta after delivery. I had suffered moderate “baby blues” after my first child, and I was concerned about keeping up with two children on little-to-no sleep. So the claims of boosting mood and increasing energy were enough to pique my interest.

Back in my office, I began searching for evidence to validate the claims. I hoped to find one or more randomized, controlled trials to appraise and talk myself out of the practice. However, I could only find retrospective and descriptive studies. I concluded the following: 1) there didn’t seem to be much risk associated with the practice, and 2) most women who consumed their placentas through encapsulation would do it again.

In my mind, I kept comparing placenta encapsulation to prescription drugs or no treatment for postpartum depression and anxiety. The moderate efficacy of prescription drugs for this indication would need to be weighed against the risks of transfer into breast milk, side effects to the mother and cost. Of course, there would be no benefit from no treatment, but I didn’t expect any risks, either.

I knew I wouldn’t take a prescription drug, because I was not comfortable with any level of risk from taking medications while lactating. So I was really just comparing placenta encapsulation to no treatment. The last few factors to consider were the cost and the availability of a “placenta encapsulation professional” near me.

For giggles, I googled “placenta encapsulation in central Massachusetts.” Who would have guessed it—a woman in my moms’ group is certified and has several years of experience. She even has her own business related to the practice. I messaged her on Facebook and began chatting about it. She charged about $200 for the service, including placenta pick-up from the hospital and delivery of the capsules on the third day of new baby’s life. A few hundred dollars for a person I trust to encapsulate my placenta? I was still on the fence until I learned that there are controlled trials in process. What if it turns out that this is something we will be recommending to every mom in 10 years? I paid for her placenta encapsulation services up front and in full.

Between my placenta professional and my “placenta-friendly” hospital, the process was a breeze. The hardest part was explaining to my parents why I needed to pack a cooler and two Ziploc bags when I finally went into labor on my due date. I remember being on the verge of tears when my friend arrived with the capsules. I was ready to try anything to combat the significant loss of hormones, the reaction of my toddler to the new baby in the house and the fatigue.

I noticed a change within a few days. I knew that a placebo effect was possible, but I was usually able to match the highs and lows of my mood with my less-than-stellar adherence to suggested dosage. I remember sitting with my midwife at my six-week postpartum visit, telling her how great I felt and suggesting that she recommend encapsulation to her patients.

As instructed, I began to taper down the dose as my capsule supply started to wane. This was also the time that my 12-week maternity leave was coming to a close. I began to feel extremely anxious about returning to work with two children. Based on the timing of everything, I would need to jump right back in to my full teaching responsibilities. I cried in front of my new PCP and asked for a referral to a service for postpartum moms. I started seeing a therapist, but didn’t really know what I was hoping to get out of it. Was I depressed? Anxious? Everyone kept telling me that what I was experiencing was normal. The therapist listened well, but didn’t offer a diagnosis or other treatment. Then she canceled an appointment and I never rescheduled.

I had two placenta capsules left, which I planned to save for a bad day. Then I was right back in the throes of work, pumping three times in eight hours, taking care of patients, precepting three pharmacy students and planning a course that would begin in a few weeks. I just figured I would have to hold it all together. After all, I had a loving husband, family close by and a full-time nanny. If I couldn’t do this, there must be something wrong with me. I’d just have to suck it up and manage.

At first, it was my calendar. I kept overscheduling myself and forgetting appointments. Then, I started having a hard time falling asleep. I was preoccupied with feelings of anxiety, depression and anger, and then guilt about my anxiety, depression and anger. My husband would arrange for quiet naptimes and practically tuck me in to bed. But I would feel myself falling asleep and jerk right back into wakefulness. One night, I couldn’t fall back asleep after the baby woke for a feeding. I was miserable—I had hit rock bottom. I sobbed softly, trying not to wake my husband, until sunrise.

Fortunately, I was able to get help soon after things turned very frightening for me. It has been 18 months since that night, and I am on the road to recovery.

To be clear, I do not think that the placenta capsules I ingested precipitated my symptoms. However, I propose that they either masked my early symptoms or shifted my lowest point back a few months. I knew that I was trying to replace traditional therapy for postpartum depression with placenta capsules. If you suspect that your patients are attempting to do the same, consider the following strategies: 1) discuss the risks and benefits of traditional therapy for postpartum depression on breastfeeding and weigh them against the risks of no treatment, and 2) evaluate your patients again after the capsule supply runs out. I often think back to the magazine that introduced me to placenta encapsulation. The article very clearly called it a complementary practice. It is important to remind patients that this practice of encapsulation should complement, and not replace, our standard of care.

—Valerie Coppenrath is a doctor of pharmacy, professor of pharmacy practice, wife, mother and patient. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Wayne State University, completed two years of residency training and earned a certificate in College Teaching.

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Placenta rituals, remedies and recipes

Placenta:The Gift OF Lifeare what you’ll find in Placenta: The Gift of Life. Read this book to discover the various ways placentas have been used by people around the world and throughout the ages. You’ll also find 15 recipes that will show you how to use the placenta in ointments, essences and other remedies for a variety of ailments. Go here to order your copy.

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