More women consume placenta to fight postpartum depression

Published: Oct. 26, 2011 at 9:42 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2011 at 4:03 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – More women are fighting postpartum depression by ingesting their placenta.

Some women say the placenta is a life-saving organ that is being treated as medical waste.  In a time when doctors are better at treating postpartum depression, women seem to be more open about taking their health into their own hands.

It may sound odd, but some women swear consuming their placenta kept them healthy and gave them tons of energy.  They even claim it helped with lactation.

Brenda Ojala is a placenta encapsulation specialist.  She is certified with a company called Placenta Benefits and recently started her own business called Placenta Works.  She says the idea came to her in a dream, though at the time she ignored it because it seemed a little off-the-wall.

"Because there's the ick factor, it's not mainstream, or you get nervous about what people might think, whatever, I kept trying to pull away from it," said Ojala.  "And it was like I wasn't allowed."

These days, Ojala is willing to share her message with anyone willing to listen.   In fact, she travels up and down the East Coast to help women encapsulate their own placentas.  She mostly travels the Coastal Carolinas, though she says she's received requests from Savannah to San Francisco.

"I got three referrals in one day last week," she said.

Ojala says it works because the placenta is rich with hormones that are naturally good for preventing postpartum depression.

"Your body just made this organ that sucked out all the best stuff in you to give to your baby so it's full of all these hormones and everything," explained Ojala.  "Then all of a sudden you birth it and 'poom', it's gone out of you, and you're completely out of balance."

Dr. Jeffrey Wright from the Glen Meade Center for Women's Health in Wilmington is open to that theory.

"I'd love to see it tested," said Dr. Wright.

Wright said he hasn't seen it in his practice, but he is open to the idea of women consuming their own placenta.

"The placenta is really a remarkable organ," said Wright.  "Worldwide, people have consumed placentas for time and memorial.  I would say a woman consuming her own placenta is not going to hurt herself by doing it."

However, Dr. Wright was quick to point out that it would not be advised to consume someone else's placenta because of blood-borne illness.  He also suggested that if a woman were in the throes of depression, he would want them to seek medical help because prescription drugs and other therapies are known treatments.

The concept of a tissue containing a hormone being used therapeutically is not a new idea.  In fact, it's a real concept used in daily medicine.  Before the 1990s, people received insulin from beef and pork pancreas.  People still consume thyroid glands from animals.

"Their concept is not unreasonable in that regard," said Dr. Wright.  "I think the real question is that, 'Do those hormones or that combination of hormones actually work?"

They do, if you ask Ojala and the moms she serves.

Robin Hill recently gave birth to her third child.  She has used Brenda's services twice.

"I noticed a lot, just more general happiness," said Hill about going from her first birth with no help to her second birth with the encapsulation.  She says the pills also helped her produce more milk and gave her energy.

Hill also says she used leftover pills to help heal during a difficult family time.  Many women who encapsulate say they save their pills in the freezer for times of weepiness, or even menopause.

"You don't have anything to lose," said Hill.  "I mean people are willing to try all kinds of other things and pay money to do all these crazy things you see on TV all the time.  Just do the research.  I mean, if you do the research and study and talk to people who have done it, you'll decide to do it."

The process usually takes several hours and typically starts late at night to help Ojala maximize her time.   Since the placenta takes around 12 hours to steam and dehydrate, working the graveyard shift is more convenient for everyone.

Under North Carolina law, Ojala essentially works as a personal chef.  She follows OSHA and food handling safety guidelines.  She says her license requires her to work within the client's home, so that is another reason why impeccable timing is essential.

After the placenta is dehydrated, Ojala then grinds up the placenta and encapsulates them.

"I'm going to hand you a jar of pills that look like vitamins and you never have to deal with the ick factor," said Ojala.  "We're given this incredible gift--a medicine made by us and made for us.  It just gives women hope."



What exactly does the placenta do?

Dr. Jeffrey Wright:  The placenta serves as the fetus' kidneys, the fetus' respiratory tract and the GI tract.  So the placenta takes nutrients, oxygen and fluid out of the mother's blood, transports them to the baby and then removes, from the baby's blood, waste products, carbon dioxide... and puts them back into the mother's circulation so that the mother's body can dispose of them.  The placenta is really a remarkable organ.  It is this amazingly designed organ that replaces multiple other human organs for the period of time the fetus is in the mother.  The number of functions it does is really quite remarkable.

Do people here ask for their placentas to be put aside? 

Dr. Jeffrey Wright:  "Our practice really hasn't seen very many people who are requesting to keep their placentas.  Patients will at times request to have their placentas to take home for a ceremonial burying.  Some cultures will take the placenta and bury it and plant a tree with it.

Why aren't more medical professionals getting on board with the idea of consuming placenta?   

Dr. Jeffrey Wright:  Medical care is driven by formal medical scientific study.  So since there's not a formal scientific study, we can't say whether consuming the placenta is going to be helpful or not.

Isn't consuming your placenta a form of cannibalism?

Brenda Ojala, placenta encapsulation specialist:  Once in a while people will say, 'Isn't this cannibalism?'  But if we know what cannibalism is, which is eating the flesh of somebody else that's been killed, then they would know this is not.

The practice of consuming placenta is not new, right? 

Brenda Ojala, placenta encapsulation specialist:  It's been done for thousands of years.  The traditional Chinese method way is the way I do it.  I've heard that people sell them on the black market [in China] because they know what's in them.

What about the "ick" factor?

Robin Hill, new mother:  I grew up on a farm and saw natural birth all the time.  So to me, it wasn't that weird.  And when I did the research and realized that everything that was in the placenta that your body can utilize, to me it was kind of like a no brainer.  The ick factor just disappears when you realize it's really good for you.

What differences do moms see who've gone from "no help" to encapsulating?

Robin Hill, new mother:  I had a lot more energy.  Taking the placenta pills gave me the stamina to be able to do that and still keep my eyes open.  I also noticed a lot, just more general happiness.  I wasn't really sad the first time but this time I noticed, like, an overflowing of joy.  My milk was in way better, it was fast.

*editors note:  Robin Hill says she didn't do anything for her first child, but she encapsulated with her second and most recently, her third.

How many pills will a placenta make?

Brenda Ojala, placenta encapsulation specialist:  80-160 pills average.  I did just do a mom who yielded 213.  It was an amazing one.  She said, "I worked hard to make that thing."  She exercised and ate extremely well, and it showed in her placenta.

How long does a woman have to take the pills? 

Brenda Ojala, placenta encapsulation specialist:  4-6 weeks postpartum (depending on how many it yields.) But moms also freezes some for future use, and I make a tincture for them which last years if stored properly

How much does it cost?

Brenda Ojala, placenta encapsulation specialist:  Roughly around $225 to $275, though the fee can increase depending on travel.  That includes two visits to the home, education, encapsulation, prints, tincture, cord keepsake, (soon a salve.)

How do I find out more information?

Placenta Works:

Placenta Works Facebook page

Placenta Benefits:

Brenda Ojala's cell phone:  607-343-5178

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