Very often, my prenatal clients ask about my position regarding placenta encapsulation. The midwife I work for offers this service to clients who wish to take advantage of the purported benefits of consuming their placenta postpartum, a practice technically called placentophagy.
The first consideration I had, as well as many others have, with placenta encapsulation is whether the Bible offers us any advice on this topic. For that, I will simply refer to this article by Visionary Womanhood: http://visionarywomanhood.com/eating-the-placenta-a-christian-worldview-perspective/
My desire in this post is not to discuss this topic Biblically, but to offer 4 nutritional/health considerations along the topic of placentophagy that many women or their health professionals do not know. There are numerous articles discussing the benefits but not many that consider these things:
1. Hormones during pregnancy
My first concern about placentophagy is that our hormones are dramatically different during pregnancy than during lactation. The placenta becomes a part of the endocrine system. In the second trimester, it takes over production of hormones needed to sustain pregnancy. These are hormones that are necessary for pregnancy, but upon delivery, a woman’s hormones are designed to change dramatically in order to initiate/sustain lactation and bonding with the baby. This is where the ovaries will once again take on their job of producing the right endocrine hormones.
Childbirth causes a drastic change in (and flushing of) hormones to switch the body from pregnancy to lactation. There are various articles listing the may hormones present in the placenta that are claimed to be a good thing for postpartum mothers. However, I feel that the placenta has the potential to be filled with pregnancy hormones that may not necessarily be ideal during lactation.
I think that some mamas who experience positive benefits from consuming their placenta postpartum may in part be due to the high amounts of progesterone in the placenta that the placenta began producing in the 2nd trimester. This indicates the likelihood of hormone imbalance in mama that stands to cause many problems down the road if that imbalance is not addressed long-term. Out of all of my female clients, I would estimate that 90% of them (or more) struggle with hormone imbalance. Low progesterone is extremely common in women today. While the progesterone hormones from the placenta may temporarily help remedy this imbalance for mom, it is of course ideal to address it naturally and nutritionally for the long-term health of mom as well as baby.
Because I practice ecological breastfeeding, I was concerned that the hormones in the placenta had the potential to interfere with the normal hormones that keep menstruation away for me for two years. (You can read more about ecological breastfeeding here.) Unfortunately, there is not a lot of evidence to show whether or not the placental hormones could interfere with normal breastfeeding amenorrhea so it is something we must consider.
Overall, it’s difficult to say without more concrete research whether the hormones in this endocrine organ will affect each mother beneficially or negatively. There is likely no one-size-fits-all in this regard.
2. Placenta Microbiome
There is new evidence that the placenta itself has microbiome. If the placental microflora is not wrought with beneficial bacteria (as I am seeing more and more with clients), then it stands to reason that it could also contain bad bacteria if mama did not work on getting good flora during pregnancy, if mama had antibiotics during pregnancy/labor or even before pregnancy, or if mama was positive for Group B strep or Bacterial Vaginosis. Research that discovered the placenta microbiome also found this:
Women who had suffered a bacterial infection (such as a bladder infection) during the first or second trimester had “microbial fingerprints” of this infection in their placenta.1
We are also learning from new research that not all breastmilk is created equally, and this pertains to probiotics as well. Mothers who have good microflora will pass on those probiotics to baby through her breastmilk. (http://biomarkersandmilk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/human-milk-has-microbiome-and-bacteria.html )
This is where my concern with placentophagy is in a woman who may not have had beneficial microflora in her placenta and could potential pass on pathogenic (bad) bacteria to her baby as a result of consuming a placenta wrought with bad bacteria.
More and more practitioners are seeing deterioration of the placenta towards the end of pregnancy as a result of calcification. While some in the medical community mistakenly report this as a problem caused by too much calcium, this is actually a problem related to poor diet and mineral deficiencies. Consuming things like caffeine, soda, and acidic processed foods causes calcium to leech out of our bones and teeth in an effort to balance the acidity of these things so they do not immediately harm the body. Additionally, caffeine causes our body to excrete calcium before the body can use it.
This is the more accurate mechanism behind calcification of the placenta as well as kidney stones and other problems related to calcium.
Because of this, one must consider the reduced health benefits, and possibly the negative effects, of consuming a placenta that may have begun to calcify. The calcification itself is indicative of a deficiency of various nutrients.
4. Heavy Metals
Did you know that around 30% of all placentas contain mercury and 35% contain lead? 2
Research has shown that placentas seem to accumulate some toxic heavy metals including mercury, cadmium, and lead. This should be a very important consideration for new moms who are breastfeeding, as these heavy metals have the possibility to continue affecting baby’s neurological health, as well as other areas of health, by being passed to the brain through breastmilk.
Here’s some more information on lead and mercury exposure in babies:
Lead has often been called the leading environmental health threat to children. It is toxic to the developing brain, and at high levels results in numerous poisoning symptoms. In addition, at the low doses common today in many countries, lead has subtle effects on neurological functions, including learning, memory and attention span. Because the infant brain is developing rapidly both before birth and for several years after birth, lead exposures during this critical period are particularly detrimental to the future intellectual potential of children.…mercury, like lead, is toxic to the developing brain. While high-dose exposures can result in a cerebral palsy-like syndrome, low dose exposures may cause subtle deficits in learning and memory. 3
Of course we must consider increased risk factors for mercury, lead, and other toxic metal contamination in mothers who receive vaccinations containing mercury, have amalgam fillings, have exposure to lead, consume foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (a source of mercury), etc.
Additionally, there is evidence that mothers who are deficient in calcium (which is basically most moms who consume caffeine and/or soda) are at a higher risk of passing lead toxicity onto their baby:
Much of the lead in breast milk does not come from the mothers’ exposure during lactation. Instead, it comes from lead stored in the mothers’ bones. Because lead mimics the beneficial mineral calcium, it is stored for decades along with calcium in the bones. During pregnancy and lactation, a woman’s body extracts calcium from her own bones to provide calcium for her child’s bone development. Calcium extraction from bone is greatest during lactation, and as a result, lead stored in the mother’s bones also enters the blood and breast milk during pregnancy and lactation. 3
I would assume the same to be even more likely in mothers who consume a placenta with measurable levels of lead.
There are nutritional considerations and possible negative health effects of consuming one’s placenta.
However, none of this information is provided in an attempt to promote the idea that placenta encapsulation for postpartum consumption is inherently wrong. It is simply my intention to share some health considerations that many people may not think of when deciding if placentophagy is right for them. For some, they may feel the benefits far outweigh any perceived or real risks.
Either way, I would encourage ALL women to work with someone like myself or another naturally-minded health practitioner to focus on having a healthy, nutrient-dense pregnancy and addressing any risk factors that may be present in one’s health history for the benefit of mom and baby. I encourage all women to individually and prayerfully consider the question of whether they are to consume their placenta or not. It is a very unique and personal decision and what’s right for one woman may not be right for another!
For mamas who are considering encapsulating their placenta in an effort to prevent postpartum depression, please be sure to check out my post on Postpartum Depression. There are things mamas can do to prevent it!
Blessings of a beautiful, healthy pregnancy!