An Old Tradition for a Growing Problem: Post Partum Depression

postpartum depressionBy: Esther Hornstein, L.Ac., Dipl.

Mommy is often the back bone of any family. I grew up with the adage:” If mom is happy everyone is happy”. If mom is upset, the spirit in the home is dimmed. If mom has a bad headache she must lie down and be away from her family and this does effect the household. Imagine what would happen if mom felt horrible everyday. The beautiful music of a happy family turns into a discordant and depressive noise.

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 her baby. She may be 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. Approximately one third of women with PPD experience suicidal thoughts. 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 medicine offers another route: to PREVENT depression.

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 was 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. 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.

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, pressure activated ice packs 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 in rejuvenating the mother’s health. Think twice before dumping it in the trash. Health is always important and it becomes 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.

Take Esther’s online video course on placenta encapsulation here.

Esther Hornstein is a wife and mother of 2. As licensed acupuncturist practicing in Brooklyn, New York she emphasizes in Women’s Health. If you would like information about her Placenta Encapsulation services please call (917)-414-3831, e-mail or visit: