Local doula focuses on postpartum healing with placenta-encapsulation services
When local doula AmyBeth Ahl-Wright discusses one of the postpartum services she offers, she knows she’s likely to get a strong reaction. She calls it “the squeamish factor”—a sense of discomfort at the mention of placenta encapsulation.
During placenta encapsulation, Ahl-Wright prepares ingestible capsules from a new mother’s placenta. That new mother then takes the capsules in order to reap an array of benefits.
According to Placenta Benefits, or PBi), the organization through which Ahl-Wright received training, ingesting the placenta can:
• help the uterus contract back to normal size
• promote lactation
• combat fatigue
• help lessen or stop post-delivery bleeding
• improve mood—reducing or eliminating postpartum depression
Both Ahl-Wright and PBi cite medical research validating these benefits. Ahl-Wright also has witnessed improvements in her clients. Still, considering what placenta encapsulation entails, it can be a hard sell.
“At first when people hear about placenta encapsulation, there’s the squeamish factor,” Ahl-Wright said, “because it’s not terribly widespread in our society. But once people learn about the benefits, they tend to get on board. I think the more people hear about it and the positive benefits, the more we’ll see people doing it.”
Ahl-Wright received her PBi training in 2011. Since then, she has provided the service for a dozen clients, along with her sister and a couple of friends.
The concept is hardly new—Ahl-Wright says it goes back to traditional Chinese medicine (the basis of PBi’s technique). Using this “traditional” technique, Ahl-Wright steams the placenta with herbs before drying it, crushing it into powder and creating the capsules.
Ahl-Wright also offers a second option, called the “raw” technique (which is why she says she operates as an independent placenta-encapsulation specialist instead of a PBi-affiliated practitioner). In the raw technique, she simply dries the placenta before crushing and creating the capsules.
Why the difference?
“The thought behind that is like when you steam vegetables, you lose some of the nutrients,” she explained, “so when you steam the placenta you might risk losing nutrients. I encourage women to do research on which they prefer and then I support them with that.”
The process takes four to five hours total, divided over two days. Ahl-Wright prepares the placenta capsules in the client’s home, she says, “because that way they’re not exposed to outside pathogens.” In addition, the mothers “are there and can see it. Some of the moms I’ve worked with have been really interested and want to watch the whole process. Others are not that interested.”
The family does have to provide the placenta, obviously. Ahl-Wright said local hospitals have different rules about releasing the placenta to the family, but none obstructs the process.
“It has not been a problem locally,” she said. “Some hospitals will hold the placenta a week; some want you to take it as soon as possible. But when it’s stored at the hospital, it’s stored at a cold temperature so it’s safe to consume when you take it home.”
Ahl-Wright, a Chico native who lives in Paradise, became a doula in 2007 after studying at American River College in Sacramento.
What is a doula? According to DONA International, a global organization of doulas, the term “refer[s] to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.”
Ahl-Wright now focuses on the latter, working primarily as a postpartum doula.
“Postpartum, it kind of fits hand in hand with the placenta encapsulation,” she said, “because I go in afterward and offer support for the mom—mother the mother so she can mother the baby.”
What’s needed varies, depending on the family. Sometimes it’s “just little things, like when I do the placenta preparation, I always like to leave the home and kitchen cleaner than it was when I arrived, because that way the parents can focus on baby.”
Ahl-Wright first heard about placenta encapsulation from a friend who was considering it following the birth of her third child.
“She was trying to figure out how to have it done, and there weren’t any specialists in our area, so she asked me if I could do it,” Ahl-Wright recalled. “I was like, ‘OK, what is that?’—it sounded a little ‘out there’ to me. So I did some research.”
She underwent the PBi training, then performed her first placenta encapsulation.
“Then when I saw the huge difference for her, in how her postpartum transition went from her second child to her third, I was hooked,” Ahl-Wright said. “With her second child, she had severe postpartum depression, and she wasn’t herself; she really struggled and wasn’t getting good sleep.
“With her third baby, she was herself. When she started taking the pills she said she was getting more restful sleep—even though she was still waking up, she felt more rested—and her emotions were more balanced. She felt like she could enjoy the baby more, which was obviously important to her. So it was really great to see her like that.”
In fact, Ahl-Wright wishes she would have known about placenta encapsulation for the births of her four children. She thinks more women will request the service once they learn more about it—even with the squeamish factor.
“Once it becomes more well-known and mainstream in our society, the ick factor will kind of go away,” she said. “That won’t be the initial response. That’s what I hope, at least.”