Saturday, August 11, 2012


Some people might find this disgusting, others could find it inspiring. I took the plunge after reading an article about it in a parenting magazine, so I wanted to share my experiences to educate others. 

An edited version of this recently appeared in the Cuidiu [Irish Childbirth Trust] National Newsletter. 


If there was a miracle pill that promised to speed up your recovery and energise you after a hard labour and pushing out a baby, then we would all be taking it wouldn't we? 

Not quite.

Most people dismiss this pill as disgusting, immoral and regard those of us who have taken it as bonkers hippies. Why? Because this pill is made of placenta.
It is something most people balk at, can’t even look at in fact, preferring to leave it behind in hospital ready to be incinerated with the next batch of medical waste. 

But what if you brought it home with you and used it for what nature intended? To heal and nourish. After all, it nurtured life inside us for 9 months and is full of amazing nutrients and hormones that have magically grown a perfect little human being.

In most of the countries, the placenta is treated with the great importance it truly deserves. In Asian countries where less medicalized birth is more common, women believe that eating the placenta or ‘Mother Cake’ as it’s often called, helps guard against postpartum depression, increases lactation and heals the uterus post birth. In fact, the latin word for placenta is actually flat cake.

My own theory is that because birth in Western societies has becomes so medicalized and less natural over the last century, we have become totally squeamish about all things gooey, especially the sight of blood, body parts and placenta. So when ancient rituals such as eating the placenta is resurrected, people think you have lost your mind. Many people thought I did when I told people what I was doing. Even people who I thought would have been more of a hippy than me.

But it was my third child - and by this point, nobody could influence my decisions anymore. My first placenta I’d left in the hospital (unwanted and no idea of its benefits), buried my second under a fuscia in my garden after a home birth and on my third I decided I needed to do something more holistic. Quite early on in my pregnancy, I read an article in Juno by Lynnea Shrief, who runs IPEN (International Placenta Encapsulation Network) in the UK. She was writing about how she was making a business out of encapsulating dried and ground up placenta, selling kits and for those who pay extra, taking away their placentas and encapsulating it for them.

There are currently no IPEN encapsulators living in Ireland but that is all about to change with the first training session of 8 participants during June in Sligo. Lynnea Shrief is doing the training so that specialists over here can offer the same service as her network in the UK. She said she had “been flooded with emails from Irish mothers searching for local specialists” and believed there was “enough growing interest in Ireland for placenta remedies to become a successful and popular post-natal service”.

My mind was made up. This is what I would do. With two other kids under the age of 4 to look after, I couldn’t afford to feel  tired or depressed after birth. I needed a quick and healthy post-natal recovery. I weighed up the costs. A full kit (including rental of a dehydrator and grinder) costs €135 to hire (including postage back to UK). Or I could pay €29 for the basic kit, which includes empty capsules, jar, recipe and special instructions. I went for the basic kit and picked up a coffee bean grinder in Argos for €8.

I figured that between my husband and I we could wash and steam my placenta, slice into small strips and bake it in the oven on a low heat until it was crispy, then grind into a fine powder, then pour into 200 capsules. It became our post-birth project, each of us doing a little bit when we had the energy.
On the second day, I woke up to find a jar-full of placenta capsules, magically put together whilst I was sleeping by my kindly elf of a husband. He said it gave him something to do whilst I was consumed by marathon feeding and sleeping sessions with the baby.

The only downside I remember was that the smell lingered around the house for a few days - kind of like burnt liver, but that didn’t bother me any more because I knew it had been a part of my lovely new baby, and by that stage, all my queasiness about blood-filled placentas has dissipated because I had handled and washed it right from the moment it was delivered.

In fact, because I had done so much research on the benefits of ingesting my placenta, I had even lost my fear of eating it raw (which was why I chose encapsulation in the first place - it seemed to be the less gross way of getting it back into my system). The basic kit contains a recipe for raw placenta smoothie (see below) which claims to give a massive hormonal kick-start when you’re shot to pieces after a long labour and birth. And because I had laboured overnight and lost a full-night’s sleep, I jumped at the chance to have a rejuvenating smoothie an hour after being excruciatingly stitched for a second degree tear. I figured I needed all the help I could get for healing to begin on my body.

Tom stoked up the blender and cut about a tablespoon of the finest section of placenta, washed it and wizzed it up with loads of summer fruits, bananas, citrus fruits and milk. I sat at my kitchen table staring at a pint of placenta smoothie - and drank it all in a few minutes. It was delicious. To be honest, it just tasted of smoothie, which is a massive pick-me-up in itself. If it wasn’t for Tom and my midwife watching me for a reaction, I would have totally forgotten I was drinking something that had just come out of my body.

The effect was definitely rejuvenating. Not only was this my complete 5-a-day in one quick blast, it was also an injection of iron, hormones, protein, nutrients, and b vitamins. Just the thought of its potency energised me. Once the tablets were prepared the next day, I started taking about 9 a day, in 3 batches.
Was my recovery quicker than previous births? Hard to say, really. I was two years older than my last birth at 38 - and I’d had a hard pregnancy and birth, my baby was nearly 2 weeks over and nearly 2 pounds heavier than my other two babies.

I felt I was more susceptible to post-natal depression this time around, especially since I had been quite anemic during pregnancy and my energy levels were at an all-time low. And particularly given that this baby had been a shock and I was feeling very overwhelmed by the task of mothering 3 babies. My eldest was only 3 and 3 months, my middle one nearly 2 and now I had a major addition to my workload. 

All that I had read about ingesting placenta was that it was a great way of beating the baby blues. Perhaps simply by arming myself better for recovery this time around - via the simple act of making these pills - I’d gifted myself the placebo effect of preventing post-natal depression. 

Ok I had days when I thought I was going crazy and I wanted to run away from their screaming (I still do), but I didn’t, I managed to keep it all together. Somehow. And I think in part, the pills were in some way responsible for that. The other benefit I was keen to encourage was increased milk supply, as I’d struggled to keep up with my first boy, my girl in the middle wasn’t a big feeder, but now my 2nd boy was big and demanded a lot of milk from me. Amazingly, I managed to produce enough milk for his large demands. I did take the odd tablet of Motillium during his growth spurts, as well as doubling my intake of placenta pills - and this got me through. A year on, I still have about a third of the capsules in my fridge as I stopped taking them after two months. Apparently, they’ll keep and be beneficial to me during menopause because of the hormones they contain.

Would I recommend it? Yes, especially mums who are worried about depression, exhaustion, milk supply, and have other children to look after. Considering that the placenta is a completely natural substance, created uniquely by us for us, encapsulation is worth considering if you can get over the squeamishness of eating something that once lived inside your body.

Benefits of placenta:
Placenta is considered to be a very powerful medicine as it is life giving and stores the vital essence for the baby.
The placenta is rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals that may help fight depression symptoms, such as vitamin B6. It is also rich in iron and protein, useful for women recovering from childbirth.
It can help reduce post-partum bleeding and triggers the body to heal internal wounds quicker.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using placenta medicinally for thousands of years - mainly to help with lactation.
Placenta pills may also help to:
• Increase general energy
• Allow a quicker return to health after birth
• Decrease likelihood of baby blues and post natal depression
• Decrease likelihood of iron deficiency
• Decrease likelihood of insomnia or sleep disorders

Recipe for Fresh Placenta Smoothie

Cut and wash approx 3 inch round piece of raw placenta. Chop up: Apple, Orange, Banana, add Summer fruits (raspberries, blackberries or strawberries - can be used from frozen). Blend fruits and add water or milk until drinkable consistency. Drink straight away.

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