Friday, August 2, 2013

Placenta Encapsulation III: Breastfeeding Help

This is the third post of this Science Friday series which explores placentophagia- the act of eating the placenta after birth. While this can take several forms for humans, one of the most common is through placenta encapsulation. This post analyzes several theories that have been proposed as the cause of placentophagia.  Check out the other posts here.

       The placenta plays an invaluable role in breastfeeding. Indeed, in all cases of lactation, whether placentophagia is involved or not, it is the birth of the placenta that initiates the body’s production of milk.   This afterbirth triggers the productions of hormones that start the production of breast milk.  (Lieberman, 2011) In Traditional Chinese Medicine, placentophagia is used to foster the mother and baby’s breastfeeding relationship by increasing the mother’s milk supply.  Recent studies have sustained this belief by demonstrating the placenta’s power in increasing milk supply. 
                Using mothers with whom doctors anticipated breastfeeding difficulties, researchers at Charles University in Prague, demonstrated that consuming the placenta increased milk production.  In this study, 210 mothers who had recently given birth consumed dried placenta within a period of two days.  Some mothers completed treatment immediately following delivery, while one mother waited two months to start treatment.  No mother experienced any negative symptoms, to include stomach pains or nausea.  In fact, some mothers enjoyed the taste!  Over 30% of mothers saw an increase of one ounce of milk in one feeding, and nearly 56% saw an increase of at least .7 ounces in one feeding.  The finding indicate that these early successes in breastfeeding continued, and many of the women in the study breastfed for many months.
                While these results are clearly a boon for mothers who want to breastfeed, the researchers findings do not immediately demonstrate what about placenta causes an increase in milk production.  Knowing that placenta is a high source of quality protein, the researchers gave another group of woman beef in a form identical to that of the placenta.  However, only one-third of these women experienced an increase in milk production, far less than the group that consumed placenta, leading the researchers to agree that the protein is not the source of the milk increase.  Using urine tests that measure progesterone and other hormones in postpartum women, the researchers currently believe that the hormones in placenta are the primary cause of increases in milk supply. 

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