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July 26, 2016

While the idea itself may be a little hard to swallow, Rebecca Williamson finds that many women attest to the positive effects of taking placenta capsules. 

There are many intimate, slightly awkward discussions that go on between pregnant mums-to-be and the wide-eyed fathers in your antenatal class but, chances are, whether or not you intend to consume your placenta after the birth isn’t one of them. While you might be highly intrigued or mildly repulsed by the subject, the reality is that more and more Kiwi mums are looking to their placentas for a natural post-partum high.

Of course, consumption of the placenta, known as placentophagy, is not a new concept – most other mammals routinely eat their afterbirth for various reasons – as do some human cultures, to help with lactation and future fertility. But now there’s a somewhat less confronting way to ingest it, and that’s via placenta capsules. No longer strictly the domain of the eccentric, placenta consumption has been catapulted into mainstream motherhood by celebrities such as Kourtney Kardashian, Alicia Silverstone and January Jones.

Otorohanga mum, Hayley Ahlers, credits her placenta capsules with giving her more energy and a newfound ability to cope with less sleep. She also feels better emotionally and has immediately bonded with her five-week-old daughter, Aubree. Her positive frame of mind – as well as her speedy physical recovery – are worlds apart from how she felt in the weeks after the birth of her first child, Levi, now 18 months. “I had to have a Caesarean with Levi as he was breech, then my milk took a few days to come in, and I had difficulty breastfeeding because he was tongue-tied. I was exhausted and struggling,” she recalls. “Then, after three days of living in bed and crying, my husband took me to the doctor and I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. It was really hard to swallow – I had everything I wanted, so why did I feel like this? I found it hard to bond with my son in those first few months because of it.” 

When Hayley became pregnant with her second child, she was determined to do anything possible to have a more pleasant post-partum experience and so began researching the physical and mental effects of placentophagy. “At first I thought, ‘How weird’,” she admits, “but after reading about the benefits it didn’t gross me out. After all, I am a farmer’s wife and cows eat theirs.” 

She enlisted Hamilton-based placenta encapsulation specialist, Cassie Emmett, from Heart of Life, to transform her afterbirth into a revitalising health supplement. When her daughter was born via emergency Caesarean in the early hours of the morning, Hayley’s placenta went straight into the hospital fridge and Cassie picked it up a few hours later. The capsules were delivered the next day. “I was really nervous about how I was going to cope with a newborn and a toddler after my last experience, but I have so much more energy since I’ve been taking the capsules,” she says. “Breastfeeding has come naturally, I can run on four hours’ sleep and still deal with toddler tantrums, I don’t need day naps this time around, and I don’t feel overly knackered at night. “I’ve also healed better from my Caesarean and, most importantly, I’ve already bonded with my baby. If I ever have a ‘down’ moment, I snap out of it pretty quick. My head feels like it’s in such a different space now, it’s actually amazing. And I put it all down to the capsules.”

 The Low-down on Placenta capsules

Where to get it done

Several placenta encapsulation specialists are now located throughout New Zealand – if there isn’t one near you, you can arrange to have your placenta frozen and couriered to a specialist overnight.

The cost
Usually $180-$250.

It’s the kind of testimony that Cassie from Heart of Life has enjoyed repeatedly since starting her business in mid-2013. “I think more mums are simply wanting to feel amazing after birth and while there are plenty of postnatal vitamins available, their own placenta contains all the right components specifically for her. It’s composed of a number of beneficial hormones, chemicals, iron and proteins,” she says. “Numerous studies have indicated benefits, such as replenishing the iron and vitamin stores, which are diminished during pregnancy, as well as increasing energy levels and breast milk supply. Placentophagy can also reduce the likelihood of postnatal depression and assist in a faster post-birth recovery.”

Once your baby is born and your placenta has been checked by your LMC, the encapsulation specialist will collect it as soon as possible. You can choose between two methods: either the Traditional Chinese Medicine method, in which the placenta is cleaned, steamed, dehydrated and ground, or the raw method, which skips the steaming stage. “Both methods have their own individual benefits and it’s purely a personal choice,” says Cassie, who only ever works with one placenta at a time for obvious reasons.

Many medical experts aren’t so convinced, however. Dr Gino Pecoraro, spokesperson for The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says placenta contains protein and iron, but the hormones tend to be broken down before they can be absorbed by the mother anyway. “There’s not a great deal of scientific validity to it and I wouldn’t recommend it,” he says. “I haven’t got a problem with it, if it’s for cultural or emotional reasons, but if mothers are forcing themselves to do it because they think it’s going to provide health benefits, then I think they need to know that there’s very little benefit. If you’re iron deficient, you can get iron tablets to make you feel better.”

While solid evidence remains debatable at this point, many Kiwi mums, including Hayley, continue to swear by their placenta capsules. Although her family is complete, she says she wouldn’t hesitate to take them again, and recommends them to  pregnant women. “I even joked with my husband the other day, ‘I wish I could just grow another placenta because I’m not looking forward to running out of capsules!’ “I still love people’s reactions when I tell them about it – mostly screwed-up faces and ‘Ew, gross’. But it’s not for everyone. I was dead set on doing it for my own wellbeing and health, and it really worked for me.”

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