Placentophagia By Melissa Baker What is Placentophagia? Placentophagia (or placentaphagia) is the practice of consuming the placenta. Many mammals naturally eat the placenta soon after birth and as do some traditional cultures. Preparations vary, including eating raw slivers, recipes such as lasagna, soups, stews etc., or medicinal pills and concoctions. The placenta can be eaten by the mother and/or saved for the child (after introduction of solids). The most beneficial times for the mother are shortly after childbirth or during times of tiredness or energy deficiency. For the child it may be useful at times of energy deficiency or perhaps considered before the seven and eight year cycles of growth. Why Eat Placenta? There are many benefits to eating placenta and although it is not well documented in Western society it is has been used as a medicine in China for many years. In fact, the placenta is quite sort after, being included in pharmacological preparations to treat infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome and a variety of other diseases. Placenta is bought from young, healthy women then tested and treated accordingly. Why let this valuable organ go to waste? Benefits of Placenta Pills The consumption of the placenta augments Qi (energy) and Xue (blood) and therefore tonifies Yang, Yin and Jing (Vital Essence). All foods have properties that can benefit the body, depending on the body type and other factors. Placenta is considered to be a very powerful medicine as it is life giving and stores the vital essence for the baby. Placenta is often included in traditional medicinal combinations with restorative functions. Generally we cannot directly tone the vital essence as it is over a process of years that this is built up. Firstly there is the Qi that comes from what we consume. Some of this Qi is then turned into Xue (blood) after digestion, and stored in the liver. If the body is producing enough blood (via good health practices), it is then transported from the liver to the kidneys and marrow (in Traditional Chinese Medicine – TMC, the kidneys control the bone marrow) and becomes Jing. There are two types of Jing: prenatal and postnatal. Pre-natal Jing is the reason why pre-natal care is so important for future health. It comes from the sperm and ova during conception and cannot be replenished. Postnatal Jing can be replenished but it takes many years. Pregnancy is taxing on the body and can drain Qi, Xue and Jing (in that order) even if the mother follows the best of health regimes. More specifically, placenta pills may help to: • Increase general energy • Allow a quicker return to health after birth • Increase production of breast milk • Decrease likelihood of baby blues and post natal depression • Decrease likelihood of iron deficiency • Decrease likelihood of insomnia or sleep disorders The body is so individual and because of the powerful nature of this medicine other benefits are also likely but too numerous to mention. I believe that this practice is particularly beneficial to vegetarian mothers and those prone to post natal depression. Other Considerations Placentophagia can be practiced after a lotus birth (allowing the placenta and umbilical cord to detach naturally) as small parts of the placenta can be removed shortly after birth and the process of lotus birth continued. Traditions such as creating placenta art and burying left over membranes can also be included as part of placentophagia. If one wishes to make an umbilical cord bracelet (or some other use) this can be removed before cooking and dried accordingly. It is best to check with your midwife or health care professional to be sure that your placenta is healthy and able to be eaten. My Story When my son was born, I was not at all interested in his placenta and made no efforts to keep it. However, as I journeyed through motherhood and became pregnant again, my interest in this area grew. Through my studies of TCM I gathered considerable information on placentophagia and decided to put it into practice with the birth of my daughter. We decided to make Bethany’s placenta into pills for me to take and did this shortly after her birth. I took Bethany’s precious placenta pills for two weeks and noticed a marked increase in my energy levels during and following this period. I wished I had this knowledge earlier! Every now and again I still take them and find that it helps me to get through the rough patches and tiredness of parenthood. I still have quite a bit left and will keep it for my daughter if she wants it. To get the placenta pills ready, we followed the recipe below. I originally crushed the placenta jerky with a mortar and pestle but have since just broken it up and put it in the capsules as this is less time consuming. Other women choose to swallow the placenta raw, though usually frozen. In TCM, frozen foods are considered to be draining, because it takes more energy to digest them. It is the process of cooking with the other ingredients that gives the placenta pills the properties mentioned. Placenta Pills Recipe Ingredients: One fresh/defrosted human placenta Ginger slices Half a lemon One red chilli (hot pepper) Empty vegetable based capsules First wash the blood away from the placenta and place in a steamer. Cut up the other fresh ingredients and place on the top. Next steam over a low heat with the other fresh ingredients for 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes. Prick with a fork to be sure that no blood or fluid comes out to check if it is done. The placenta will shrink during this process. Slice the placenta as thinly as possible and place on a baking tray. Dry in a low-temp oven or use a dehydrator. Then powder or just break it up and put it into the empty capsules. Store in a dark container at room temperature. Recipe adapted from: Gentle Birth – Medical Uses of Placenta (http://www.gentlebirth.org/Midwife/eatplcnt.html) This article is also available at www.parentinghealth.com. Properties Flavour is sweet and salty. Nature is warm and moist. Functions Augments Qi (energy) and Xue (blood) and therefore tonifies Yang, Yin and Jing (vital essence). Placenta is often included in traditional medicinal combinations with restorative functions. Mainly used after childbirth but also can be used after high stress or an extremely draining experience. Benefits By augmenting the production of Qi (vital energy) and Xue (blood) this allows for increased energy, increased breastmilk and less risk of Xue Xu (blood deficiency) which can cause depression. It can be used preventively. In combination with other herbs placentas have been used to treat infertility and cancer. When consumed directly after childbirth it helps to contract the uterus. Contraindications Not to be used in heat conditions or for people with the presence of pathogenic factors, including common cold and mastitis. Dosage Two capsules, three times a day for the first two weeks post-partum. It can then be used whenever a mother’s energy is low.