By Emily Holdaway
Separately, I am familiar with these two words. Anyone pregnant has an idea of what the placenta is and does. It may be a vague idea, but you know it’s in there and you know it’s invaluable in keeping your baby alive. Encapsulation, well must be just what it sounds like. Putting something in a capsule. So, placenta encapsulation…putting the placenta in a capsule? To eat it? What the hell. Why? How? Do people actually do that?
When we fell pregnant, what would happen to Ziggy’s placenta was not something AJ and I discussed. AJ is Maori, and while I check the ‘European’ box on all those damn forms you have to fill in during the course of your adult life, I grew up in the Far North in a predominantly Maori community. For Maori, the whenua, or placenta of a baby is buried. Returned back to the land, linking a person with their place on this earth forever. There was no need for us to discuss anything, this is how things are. Eating it was as far from our minds as …as birth photography had recently been.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard of a placenta being eaten before, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage famously fried up a new mum’s placenta with garlic and shallots, and Tom Cruise caused quite a stir when he mentioned considering eating the placenta after the birth of Suri (I don’t actually think he went ahead with that) . Plus, I’d grown up on what you could optimistically describe as a farm, so I had seen the placenta being eaten. Our cows, pigs, dog and cat all consumed the placenta after giving birth, it was normal.
But I had never given thought to doing it myself. Well, that’s just a bit gross isn’t it? Is it?
Then we met Cassie, and while we were discussing the options for our birth photography, she asked us about our plans for the placenta. We told her that we would take it home and bury it. Ziggy is one of AJ’s mum’s seven grandchildren, and she has all of the placentas stored in the freezer, waiting for a special day when we are all home together and can take them into the bush and bury them.
Cassie then asked if we had considered Placenta Encapsulation. Considered? We had never even heard of it until then. But we’re curious people and we wanted to know everything and anything that was related to our pregnancy. So Cassie explained to us what it was, and the more she talked, the more the idea started to grow on us. Because, if you took the ‘icky’ factor out of it, well, it made perfect sense.
Encapsulation of the placenta is a process by which the placenta is dehydrated, powdered, popped into gel capsules and then returned to the mum. To eat. Down the hatch in one go with a big gulp of water. Now I don’t know about you, but for me a gel capsule sure sounded a lot more palatable than a fry up. But what reasons would there be to eat your placenta?
The placenta is a rich source of nutrients, hormones and all the goodies needed to create and sustain life. It is a package of goodness, tailor-made by your body for your baby. So, when you think about it, it makes sense that once it’s done its job, it can be returned to your body. Humans are one of the only mammals that do not eat their placenta after the birth of a baby, and while some people may disagree with me, animals are smart. They have instincts and inbuilt knowledge that we have diluted over the centuries in ourselves.
But while it made a lot of sense to us, we were hesitant. We didn’t want to lose the tradition of returning the placenta to the land. We didn’t want our child to be the odd one out, the only grandchild missing in that special grove in the bush. It means a lot to AJ and I.
We explained these reservations to Cassie and she totally understood. In New Zealand, burying the placenta is not an uncommon tradition, and she had clients before us with these same reservations. She explained to us that for the encapsulation process, only the placenta itself that is needed but the afterbirth is more than just a placenta. There is also the umbilical cord and the amniotic sac, neither of which are used in the encapsulation process and would be returned to us if we wished.
It was a perfect compromise.
Ziggy was born at 4:35am. By 7pm that same day, Cassie delivered two bottles of capsules to me and I started taking them straight away. Ziggy is our first child, so I don’t really have a reference to gauge the effectiveness of them against, but I strongly believe they made a world of difference to my post birth experience.
My milk arrived within 24 hours of giving birth. Our midwife was a bit stunned, apparently that’s rather fast. And Ziggy was thriving. By day four, old he was pooing like a week old baby (who knew they pay such close attention to baby shit in those first few days hey), and he gained 30g. And this was in spite of undiagnosed tongue and lip ties that were to cause weeks of issues down the track – but that’s a story for another day.
My post-partum bleeding was over and done with in about 3 days. It was no worse than a heavy period, and then it tapered off to light spotting. The amount you bleed after giving birth can be a bit scary if you’re not prepared for it, I think you’re focused so much on giving birth, that you forget your body still has things to do once baby is born. By the time I was out of the birth centre and back home, I only needed to use a liner.
And I had energy – stupid amounts of energy for a brand new mum who was getting very little sleep and recovering from giving birth. I felt great. Okay, so this could have been the hormones raging though my body, but two weeks later I was still feeling wonderful.
I took my placenta pills until the first bottle was empty, I started on a high dose of about four a day for a few days, then three, then two and I would have kept taking them but I didn’t want to use them all straight away. I am a ‘rainy day’ person, and I wanted to keep some up my sleeve for any difficult days ahead.
Ziggy is 13 months old and I have less than a dozen pills left. The second bottle lasted ages as I only took them on really rough mornings, when my eyes were falling out of my head and I walked around in a trance. I’d throw back two pills with a big glass of water, and then follow it with a strong coffee. And I’d make it to the end of the day.
I am so glad that Cassie bought up the idea of placenta encapsulation with AJ and I. That we went ahead with something that was so far off our radar, that a lot of people think is ‘gross’ before looking into it further. I’m not sure what my post birth experience would have been like without them, but I don’t think it would have been as positive as it was.
If you’re pregnant, I would encourage you to investigate placenta encapsulation. Yeah it might sound a bit strange to begin with, we thought so too, but we are so glad we went ahead with this decision. With thanks to Cassie from Heart of Life, placenta encapsulation specialist.
Emily Holdaway is a New Zealand parenting blogger gaining local recognition. She is a first time mum, sharing her journey to natural parenting through her entertaining and surprisingly open blog Raising Ziggy . Emily is an active volunteer of Waikato Baby Carriers, she attends La Leche meetings and also Kangatraining; supporting local businesses and offering advice and the benefits of these groups to other kiwi parents. In her spare time, you’ll find her in the garden with Ziggy and the chooks.