Esther Hornstein, L.Ac., Dipl.

Placenta Encapsulation, Kosher for Post Partum Health

By: Esther Hornstein, L.Ac., Dipl.

In our community having children close together in age is Baruch Hashem the norm. A large beautiful family, as loud as it is, sounds like music to the ears of many Orthodox Jewish parents. The mother is often the back bone of any family. I grew up with the adage:” If mom is happy everyone is happy”. If Chas V’Sholom the mother gets sick, the spirit in the home is dimmed. Even if mom has a bad headache she must lie down and be away from her family. Imagine what happens when mom feels horrible everyday. The beautiful music of a happy large family turns into a discordant and depressive noise.

Approximately one out of eight women experiences symptoms of post partum depression. Post partum depression leaves the mother feeling dread, anxiety, fear as well as apathy towards taking care of their baby. They are unable to function in their home and social lives. The overwhelming feeling often makes them wish they had never had their baby or even give rise to thoughts of harming the baby or themselves. When not properly addressed, post partum depression can last for years after the birth of the child.

The most common treatment for post partum depression is usually talk therapy. Recent research has also shown dramatic positive results of healthy exercise .The last line of defense is anti-depressant medication. A mother suffering from post partum depression may have to choose medication to treat her depression over breast feeding her infant because many effective anti-depressants such as Paxil, Prozac and Celexa could harm the baby through breast milk.

Alternative Options for Harmonious Results
The placenta, otherwise known as the afterbirth, is the organ in the mothers’ womb that transmits all the blood, nutrients and gasses to the growing fetus. Most American hospitals discard it or bank it for future use as stem cells. In India, China and other Asian countries, the placenta is carefully handled and then prepared for the mother to ingest. Due to the overwhelming benefits, American women are adopting placentophagia as a part of their post partum recovery.

The placenta is a completely natural substance, created by a woman's own body, and its consumption is a valuable tool for postpartum recovery for every expectant woman to consider. Placentophagia decreases or prevents baby blues, also known as, post partum depression. The placenta is also used to increase breast milk production, increase energy, promote recovery to full health, prevent iron deficiency and decreases sleep dysfunction in new mothers.

Traditional Chinese medicine understands the root of why some women get post partum depression and others don’t. The properties of dried placenta replace what it lost to the mother during pregnancy and childbirth. Woman who ingest dried placenta thereby significantly reduce feelings of depression and emotional sadness without sacrificing the benefits given to the baby through nursing. In fact, ingesting the placenta encourages milk production.

The Tradition
Nearly every mammal, even the herbivore, consumes its own placenta after birth, and many cultures rely on it as a medicinal supplement. The placenta contains vitamins and minerals that help fight depression symptoms and it is rich in iron and protein, which is useful in recovery from childbirth.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using placenta medicinally for thousands of years to help with severely debilitated health and insufficient lactation. After the mother gives birth, a close relative, friend or birth assistant either makes a culinary dish with the placenta or cooks, dries, crushes and puts the placenta powder into capsules for the new mother to take. Halacha permits the later method. Dried placenta is an herb also used for infertility, and other disorders.

The Research
There is little research on placentophagy, but a lot of research does exist regarding postpartum health and hormonal fluctuations. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study that focused on the stress-reducing hormone CRH (Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone) which is generally produced by the hypothalamus. During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes so much CRH that the levels in the bloodstream increase threefold. Researchers also discovered that postpartum women have lower than average levels of CRH which can trigger depressive symptoms for some.

They concluded that the placenta secreted so much CRH that the hypothalamus stopped producing it, and once the placenta is born; it takes time for the hypothalamus to get the signal that the CRH levels are low to begin producing it again. This may help confirm that there is likely a biological cause for the baby blues directly related to hormone levels.

In 1954, researchers conducted a study on 210 women with insufficient milk supply. After giving them dried placenta, they discovered that 86% of them had a positive increase in their milk production within a matter of days. More recent research has discovered that placentophagia could enhance pain tolerance by increasing the opium-like substances activated during childbirth which could be beneficial during the postpartum healing process.

Practicality in Halacha
The process of placenta encapsulation is a method of preparation where the placenta is cooked (traditionally with ginger root, lemon and cayenne pepper to enhance the healing properties), cut, dried, crushed and then put into capsules for the mother to swallow.
Even though the placenta goes through this cooking process it still maintains the hormones, minerals and traditional healing properties. When preparing a placenta for consumption one can use vegetarian gel capsules that contain no animal byproducts.

Rabbi Dovid Kornreich of Toras Moshe contemplated the unique question of whether one could prepare her own placenta in this way and ingest it. He approved the practice and wrote a dissertation as reference for mothers interested in placentophagia to show to their own Rabbi for approval. Rabbi Kornreich’s dissertation is based on many factors that I am not qualified to discuss, but primary aspects of his approval are due to the medicinal use of placenta that can be used for a mother who is already starting to feel depressed in addition to one being able to use placenta for post partum prevention. And the fact that this process does not allow the mother to taste anything of her own blood/organ also lends itself to being halachicly permitted.

If you may want to use your placenta, must make sure it is saved and speak to your Rav when you are ready to use it.

Practicality in the hospital setting
Hospitals are becoming more accommodating of mothers’ requests for their own placenta. Still, many hospitals are weary of sending home mothers with their own placenta. The hospitals are afraid of a law suit by releasing bio-hazardous material. The answer to their unwarranted fear is Placenta Benefits, a national lobby group that train individuals to perform the placenta encapsulation process and advocate for women whose hospitals don’t allow them to take home their own placenta. This group has a legal document which both the mother and hospital representative sign and frees the hospital from any legal ramifications that could possibly occur as a result of the mother taking home her placenta. I give this form to my clients who give birth in hospitals. Birthing centers are far more willing to let the mother take home her placenta.

If you choose to take your placenta home, most hospitals or birthing centers will wrap and keep it refrigerated for you. However it is best to be prepared with a cooler of ice and labeled double zip-lock freezer bags to keep it from becoming rotten. If the placenta will not be used for more than 3 days it is best to freeze it. If you or someone you have hired plan to process it within 2 days of the birth keep it refrigerated.

The placenta is a wondrous resource, think twice before dumping it in the trash. Health is always important it become invaluable when you become a parent. If you don’t have a baby yet, you will find out that a healthy, happy mother, makes for a happier and healthier baby.

Esther Hornstein is a mother of 2 and a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Brooklyn, New York.