COLUMBIA — Melanie Morgret was in labor for just 45 minutes before giving birth to Sedona Morgret at home on Feb. 29. The leap day birth was the third delivery for Morgret and, as expected, it went quickly.
Since labor tends to be faster as a woman has more children, Morgret knew she would probably have to forgo pain medication during the birth of Sedona and opted for a home birth instead of going to a hospital.
Before the birth, Morgret had heard about a traditional Asian remedy for mothers that's been getting renewed attention in the U.S.: having her placenta processed into postnatal remedies.
She turned to Baby Home Brewed, a Web-based placenta remedy business in Columbia operated by Jennifer Graham-Henderson.
Graham-Henderson, a former special education teacher in Columbia, had postpartum depression after giving birth to her first daughter and learned about placenta remedies while she was pregnant with her second daughter.
“The placenta, when it’s gone, you’re left without hormone production or regulation for a couple days up to a couple weeks,” Graham-Henderson said.
She gave this explanation for the benefits of placentas for mothers:
Normally, the hypothalamus in the brain controls hormonal production. After about the 12th week of pregnancy, however, the placenta takes over this job. After giving birth it can take more than two weeks before a woman’s hypothalamus begins to regulate hormones again.
The placenta is full of hormones and nutrients — especially vitamin B, protein and iron — and Graham-Henderson said these natural vitamins are absorbed into the body faster and easier from placenta remedies than vitamin supplements. Ingesting the placenta during the weeks after birth, she said, is thought to help new moms regain energy faster and avoid postpartum depression.
Mark Kristal, a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo in charge of behavioral neuroscience, said he’s been studying placentophagia for about 40 years. Although Kristal hasn’t done any research with humans, neither has anyone else, he said.
Kristal said the results seen with new mothers consuming the encapsulated placenta might be a placebo effect; people think it will help, so it does. He said that humans aren’t lacking anything that the placenta offers, so it isn’t necessary.
Other mammals have changes in their physiology during pregnancy, causing them to crave and consume their placentas after birth for the nutrients and hormones.
Human mothers don’t crave the placenta, Kristal said, and don’t need it. It might work in humans, he said, but evidence is lacking and more research needs to be done.
“It’s a difficult topic to study in humans in a scientific fashion,” Kristal said.
Graham-Henderson noticed a significant difference in postnatal recovery times between her first and second child, and credited the placenta remedy. Because she had to hire a home-birth midwife from Kansas City to process her placenta, she decided to open her own business in Columbia.
“It seemed really silly to me that in a community like Columbia where there’s such an open-minded vibe going on that surely somebody would’ve heard of this or done this before,” Graham-Henderson said.
Graham-Henderson said she took training courses from the woman who processed her placenta. She was required to process two placentas outside of the class, and Morgret was her first client.
During the processing, the placenta is steamed, dehydrated and ground into a powder. It can be put into capsules, ointment, tincture or added to food such as the chocolates and vegetable soup Graham-Henderson made for Morgret.
Graham-Henderson's basic fee for the placenta capsules is $200, and then $20 for additional products.
Morgret said she initially couldn't taste the placenta powder she used as a food supplement but after awhile detected a "strong iron taste."
Graham-Henderson speculated that because women are so nutrient deprived after birth, they don’t initially notice the strong iron-like taste of the placenta in the food.
“I just had more energy right after, and I don’t know if that’s just because I stayed home,” Morgret said. “Plus with taking the placenta capsules, I feel like it was a combination of both.”
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