Thursday, April 9, 2015

Should I take Placenta Postpartum? A Chinese Medicine Perspective

As an acupuncture/ herbal medicine student I was excited to learn about human placenta as a healing substance. I was fascinated that this medicine could put to use something that was part of creating life and yet was so readily discarded. It was only years later that I became pregnant that I learned the trend of taking placenta postpartum for recovery, breast milk enhancement, and postpartum depression prevention. In this blog I'll discuss how the current use varies somewhat from its traditional usage and how I believe more caution needs to be exercised to most effectively utilize placenta as a healing substance.

When I was pregnant and decided that I would hire someone to dry and encapsulate my placenta, I got caught up with the current touting of all the benefits of taking placenta postpartum and forgot some of my text book knowledge about some of its precautions. I took the substance as "prescribed" by the doula who prepared it for me, 1 capsule 3 times a day. Days after giving birth I wound up with a mysterious fever that my midwife labeled mastitis (breast infection) for lack of signs pointing in any other directions. I believe the onset of this fever and possible infection was at least in part related to my ingesting placenta. Here's why.

By nature placenta is warm and very nourishing especially to the yang of the kidney as well as the blood and essence of a person. For those of you not familiar with these terms the "yang" is the warming and activating side of a person.  "Blood" is pretty much as we usually refer to it, and "essence" is the core substantive vitality of a person. In the weeks after giving birth a woman's channels are said to be in an "unsettled" state and be more open than usual. So while she may very well need nourishing after the blood loss and exertion of labor and caring for a new baby, she also needs to take care to avoid pathogenic factors like extremes of hot or cold during this vulnerable time, as that could introduce infection. As I am a person who tends toward heat diseases anyway, meaning if I was going to get sick hot, red sores or fever were often part of the picture. So for me taking this warm and nourishing of a substance several times a day when I was extra vulnerable to infection was not the best idea. Fortunately, at this point I stopped taking my placenta until the infection was totally gone and thereafter I only took it on occasion when feeling more cool and run down, not just as a maitenence supplement. I at least had the knowledge to do this but I worried that other women without this information would end up continuing to take it as "prescribed" and wind up with infections that were difficult to recover from. So for the benefit of people who want to ingest their placenta here is my list of precautions based on text book guidelines.

1. Do not take daily/regularly if there is no significant depletion. Best way to know this is having a Chinese Medicine practitioner read your tongue, pulse and ask you a few questions. If you had a long, difficult labor or lost an usual amount of blood there is a good chance you could have depletion, but still having a consultation is not a bad idea. Regardless, you should listen to your body if the placenta seems to be creating symptoms rather than making you feel good.

2. Stop placenta immediately in case of fever or other signs of infection including common cold. Do not resume until completely recover.

3. Be cautious if you have a hot or particularly robust constitution. This is probably not the best choice for you even after the hard work of giving birth as it is listed as ideal for someone who tends to suffer from infertility or impotence, emaciation, chronic weak lung conditions, or is elderly and debilitated.

4. If you tend to suffer from yin deficient symptoms such as hot flashes or sweating at night this substance should not be used alone. It needs to be combined with other more moist substances, so consult your herbalist.

5. Lastly, I am concerned with the hygienic nature of the prepared placenta. Since the kitchens in which placentas are prepared are not regulated in any way it is quite possible for bacteria to get introduced. Do your research before choosing someone to prepare it about the standards for cleanliness in the preparation area.

If you are wanting a consultation about use of placenta in the Sonoma County/Santa Rosa area I'd be happy to take a look at you as an individual and give my recommendations. I also sell formulations of herbs that I believe to be more safe than placenta for a larger number of women. They also happen to be significantly cheaper. For more information visit or call Kat at (707) 775-8311.

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