Benefits of The Amazing Placenta

Welcome to Risky Baby Business! This is the Saturday series that examines questions and challenges about babies and pregnancy, particularly the high-risk kind. Today’s post is about the placenta – what it does and why it’s so important.

What does the placenta do?

My high-risk OB spoke about the placenta in nearly reverent terms, convinced that it was the most amazing organ ever created. After having a baby, I tend to agree with him.🙂

  • Among organs, the placenta is unique. It is the only organ in the human body that serves a vital function and then becomes obsolete.
  • The placenta’s primary role is to ensure that oxygen and nutrients is moved into your baby’s blood stream and carbon dioxide is carried away from your baby, along with any other waste your fetus generates.
  • An extremely complex piece of biological equipment, the placenta is a little bit like an artificial kidney, it allows your blood and the baby’s to come into very close contact – but without ever mixing. It acts as the lung, kidney and digestive system for the baby.
  • The placenta also plays an important role in hormone production, making the Human chronic gonadotropin (hCG) which permates your baby’s bloodstream as early as 10 days into the pregnancy. It’s also responsible for the production of estrogen and progesterone.
  • This is the organ that protects your baby from possible infection – however, it is not always able to distinguish between what is a good substance and what isn’t. This is why pregnant women are asked to limit or avoid substances which may cause harm (i.e. alcohol, herbal substances and drugs).

More about the placenta

Photo from Natracare.com

In many cultures the placenta is considered the tree of life. Without a placenta your baby cannot survive.

  • The placenta begins producing hormones at 6-8 weeks gestation to help sustain pregnancy.
  • These hormonal levels continually increase during pregnancy, and by the third trimester there are 3 times the normal level of hormones in an expectant mother’s system.
  • By 4-5 days postpartum, a new mother’s hormone levels will usually drop below normal.

This is a huge fluctuation! To go from 3 times the normal level to below normal hormonal level…can anyone say “Baby Blues?”

Some of the hormones (and their functions) produced by the placenta

  • Prolactin: promotes lactation
  • Oxytocin: for pain and bonding; also known as the “love” hormone
  • Interferon: stimulates the immune system to protect against infection
  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone: boosts energy and helps recover from stressful events
  • Cortisone: combats stress and unlocks stores of energy
  • Hemoglobin: replenishes iron deficiency and anemia
  • Gammaglobulin: immune booster that helps protect against postpartum infections
  • Urokinase Inhibiting Factor & Factor XIII: stops bleeding and enhances wound healing

Many holistic healers believe in a mother ingesting their placenta as a supplement after childbirth. Before you say “ICK!” keep in mind that these women usually do so in capsule form. This has been in practice in China and many cultures for thousands of years.

All of the above hormones are still viable and intact after delivery for a human birth. Plus, any of you who’ve been around whelping animals know that most mammals ingest their own placenta after the birth, sometimes even ignoring the young until the placenta has been completely ingested.

For all of the reasons above, placentas are often prepared by holistic medicine practitioners for ingestion by new mothers (average cost in the U.S. = $350). In China, placenta capsules have been used for energy and anti-aging, but the benefits touted for new mothers are listed below.

Placenta capsules can:

  • Balance hormones
  • Increase milk supply
  • Combat Fatigue
  • Increase energy
  • Prevent signs of aging
  • Recover more quickly from childbirth
  • Replenish what was lost during childbirth
  • Bring the body back into balance
  • Prevent and treat the “baby blues” and/or postpartum depression
  • Shorten postnatal bleeding time
  • Increase postnatal iron levels

There are actually vendors who are certified to prepare your placenta for ingestion and it is perfectly safe. (I know, I was a bit surprised too.) Here in Southern California, most hospitals will release your placenta to you if you request it. This is an important detail to include in your birth plan.

  • Independent placenta service providers can be found here.
  • More about birth plans can be found in this earlier post.

A “final word” on the placenta

I suffered from crushing migraines in my first trimester. Fifteen weeks of migraines, to be exact. They were beyond brutal.

Many expectant mothers, especially those like me who are migraine sufferers, suffer in those early weeks. Their pregnancy hormones are raging and their placentas are just not build yet.

When the placenta is finally formed, the first trimester challenges like morning sickness and headaches should begin to abate. If these kinds of ailments continue into the rest of your pregnancy, you have my sympathies.

I have a post in the works right now about the non-drug treatments for headaches and I’ll make sure to link it back to this post when it comes out so it can be referenced here in the comments.

What did I leave out about the placenta? Do you have any observations from your own pregnancy or from one you’ve observed? Did you have ailments such as headaches or morning sickness that decreased or disappeared once your placenta was in place? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!

Note: I’m considering a post on placenta previa, placenta accreta and placental abruption so please share any experience you have with that as well (if you’re comfortable doing so).

Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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11 Responses to Benefits of The Amazing Placenta

  1. Julie Glover says:

    I will pop in and comment on my experience. I had placenta previa with one of my pregnancies – which is where the placenta (which usually rests in the uterus above the baby) was smack-dab underneath the baby’s head and blocking the opening. After the placenta broke a couple of times (then healed), I spent four weeks in the hospital on bedrest. My son was born 6 1/2 weeks early after a large hemorrhage convinced the doctor that my placenta could no longer perform those all-important jobs you listed above. My boy stayed a few weeks in the neonatal ICU before he could come home, but he’s absolutely fine now! Still yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with how important the placenta is! It is an amazing organ.

    I’m still a little creeped out with ingesting one’s placenta. But you make a good case for giving it some real consideration.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Julie, trust me I was creeped out about ingesting it too and I was shocked that I almost talked myself into it. I had real problems with a lot of the things that placenta supplements fix – thyroid malfunction, serious baby blues, etc.

      Boy, I can imagine how scared you were…placenta previa is serious stuff. I’ve had a few friends have placenta issues. My placenta was the ONE thing on me that was really a champ. Baby girl didn’t want to come out until we forced her out at 42 weeks.

      Thanks for taking time to comment!

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  2. I experienced a partial placental abruption with #2, the most likely reason he came a week early. I had a normal midwife appointment in the morning and thought I might have lost the mucus plug before leaving the house. By the time I was halfway to my appointment, I knew it was more than just a mucus plug. I was hooked up to a monitor to make sure the baby was okay. Because I was so close to my due date, the midwife sent me home with some herbs that help induce labor to see if labor would start. It did, LOL. Everything progressed fine, he was born about 8 hours later.

    We did have an additional scare with him in that his heart rate dipped near the end of the labor. We thought we’d have to transport. We packed everything up to go to the hospital, the ambulance and about 10 firefighters arrived, and the midwife checked me one last time before we left. Little stinker was crowning. Literally, a single push delivery. So we didn’t go anywhere, LOL, but the EMT’s gave both of us oxygen, and the placenta arrived almost in the same push as #2 did. I’m probably lucky I didn’t hemorrhage.

    That pregnancy also involved a likely placenta absorption, as we’re about 95% sure I was pregnant with twins in the first trimester.

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  3. K.B. Owen says:

    Wow, getting a little woozy from all this placenta talk, lol. I was fortunate to never need to think about it, except to be grateful when the placenta was finally established. Up until that point, with each of my pregnancies, I’d get really dizzy at times. I remember the doctor telling me it was a side effect of blood volume/placenta-building.

    You series is going to help a lot of folks, Jenny!

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Kathy! I didn’t think a lot about my placenta until I heard my high-risk guy go on and on. It’s stunning how much blood volume you do build up (about 4 pounds) during pregnancy.

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  4. Fascinating facts, Jenny. I have been blessed with two normal, healthy pregnancies and amazingly fast and easy deliveries. I wish every expecting mother to have as good pregnancy and labor as I have had.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are lucky, Angela, and we really appreciate the positive stories here too. My pregnancy itself was fairly uneventful, thanks to all the monitoring, shots, and self-care. But dang it was a lot of work!

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  5. I’ve said it before, Jenny: I hope you gather these posts together into a book. I also hope you save a copy of that book for your daughter to read when she’s 18 or so. She should know how much she’s loved.

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      David,

      You’re a sweetie pie. And you’ll be happy to know that these posts are a part of my high-risk pregnancy memoir. I hadn’t thought of saving the posts and book for Baby Girl but that’s a really good idea. Thanks…she is very loved.

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  6. Pingback: M is for #Moms…Who Deserve Medical Attention Too! #AtoZchallenge | Jenny Hansen's Blog

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