Recently Dr. Price came across this article detailing a valid opinion on the practice of placenta encapsulation. It is a growing practice where women, after birth, are having their placentas processed for consumption in the post natal stage. It is a personal experience and there are stories relating both positive and negative experiences. Making a completely informed decision is the best way to ensure peace of mind. This article is written from the perspective of a lactation consultant and is so well presented.
As presented on the website Happy Goat Productions
A Lactation Consultant's Perspective on Placenta Encapsulation
The following is a guest post by Sarah Hollister RN, PHN, IBCLC. Sarah contacted me a few weeks ago after coming across my own blog post on maternal placentophagy while doing research on the Chinese medicine roots of this practice. We both are excited to collaborate and share her experiences and research here since we believe that it is important to approach this sensitive subject with as much solid information as possible. It is my hope that the Chinese medicine community might benefit from Sarah's extensive experience as a nurse and lactation consultant. For references cited and used in the following article, see this handout in pdf format, which Sarah shares with clients and colleagues. We both welcome your comments, feedback, and constructive criticism of our contributions to this evolving discussion. Please feel free to share our writings with your patients, colleagues, family, and friends.
As a nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I have the opportunity to work with nearly every pregnant woman and new mom and baby at a group of four primary care health centers in Northern California. I would like to share my experience, concerns and request for collaboration to closely examine the new practice of placenta encapsulation, as it has grown to become a component of the postpartum experience for the new moms who I work with and throughout the United States. I have encountered assumptions that placenta consumption increases milk production, is a prevention for postpartum depression, and has existed in history as an ancient human practice. I will provide a summary here of the work I do and what I have found with my clients involving this practice.
In my role providing perinatal services, I work both within the community clinics offering prenatal education, and in the mom’s home doing the initial exams for the newborns and breastfeeding assessments for moms after every birth as the standard of care, whether things are going well with breastfeeding or not. When there are challenges with breastfeeding, I am able to offer unlimited lactation consultations. All of my services are free of charge to the moms, as they are provided through our clinics’ primary care services. I also hold a weekly drop-in lactation clinic and postpartum support group. In addition, I have one-on-one assessments scheduled with all moms at four weeks postpartum as a routine visit. My visit notes are immediately available to their primary care physicians. I have access to the babies’ growth charts as well. I work closely with the family practice doctors, who are very supportive of breastfeeding and are trained to do interventions for breastfeeding challenges such as frenotomies for tongue-ties and osteopathic craniosacral therapy to help with latching issues related to the birth. With all of this, I have full access to our community of moms and babies over the long term of their care, and great resources to support breastfeeding success. Our patient population is quite varied, with women giving birth in hospitals, birth centers, and at home.
Over the past five years, I have noticed an alarming trend of moms with low milk supply and failure-to-thrive babies. It was initially a puzzle to me, as the majority of these cases were with healthy moms who had given birth at home or at a birth center, or at least had a doula supporting them in the hospital, all factors that should set a mom up for an optimal start to breastfeeding. They usually had no explainable reason why their milk supply was so low, as I worked diligently with them on resolving any factors that could be contributing. It was another lactation consultant who was consulting with me on one of these cases who brought up the fact that the mom was consuming her encapsulated placenta. I had assumed that this was a healthy and even traditional practice of which I was supportive, and brushed it off as having nothing to do with her low milk supply. However, in discussing it more deeply, and looking into the physiological connection between pregnancy hormones and lactation hormones, my colleague’s concern began to make sense to me. We know very well that the dominant pregnancy hormone, progesterone, inhibits the dominant lactation hormone, prolactin, from binding to the prolactin receptor sites, thereby inhibiting milk production during pregnancy. A woman’s milk comes in at approximately three days after the birth because of the rapid drop in progesterone due to the expulsion of the placenta from the body. This is the hormonal trigger that allows prolactin levels to rise and milk production to begin. If there are retained placental fragments in the uterus after the birth, a woman’s milk is likely to be delayed coming in because of the inhibitory effect of the progesterone on prolactin, thereby halting Lactogenesis II (i.e., the onset of copious milk production on day 3 after the birth). Estrogen is the other dominant hormone of pregnancy, and it is also a potent suppressor of prolactin during lactation. When a nursing mom gets pregnant with a new baby, her milk is at risk of drying up due to the hormones of the new placenta growing. We know of the detrimental effects hormonal birth control can have on milk supply. This is a very basic fact of lactation physiology: progesterone and estrogen are inhibitors of prolactin (Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Protocol #13, 2015; Neville et al., 2001; Riordin, 2005; Walker 2017).
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