Lactation and the placenta
As a Placenta Remedies Provider and trainer, I am often asked about the impact placenta pills have on breastmilk supply.
As a birth worker, my work revolves around finding all the information, and not cherry-picking biased pieces to fit the answer sought.
I am not of the belief that placenta pills are a completely magical cure for all ills, however, I do believe the parents who share a review of the effects their placenta remedies had for them from various countries around the world. I offer this service to parents because I have witnessed the difference it can make to parents on many levels.
Questions arise when statements are made; “placenta pills cause low milk supply” without any evidence to support the claim. Statements like this are read by people choosing placenta remedies who then worry their pills have damaged their milk quality or indeed supply, causing some parents to give up feeding their babies via the breast or abandon their remedies as a result. Statements like this often go viral and are influential in decision making for parents and mostly have very little or no evidence to back up the claims.
In regards to placentophagy, most of the information and evidence we hold is anecdotal; the vast majority of reviews from parents around the world is that placenta pills have been a positive move for them. Reports of increases in milk supply, better than their previous supply or even oversupply are abundant.
This article is written with questioning at the fore of how this type of viral statement presents opinions to parents as facts, which then influence a change of mind about something without evidence to back up the claim, and presents evidence to the contrary for a balanced view.
I would like to shed some light also on the facts as we know them, factors which are known to hinder milk supply in the early days and which may explain some of the symptoms a tiny minority of parents have experienced when they have used placenta pills.
There are very few instances of what is described as reduced lactation alongside placentaphagy and for the most part, other factors might have not been considered or at least not been reported.
Lactogenesis II occurs 30-40 hours after birth. If LG2 has failed to occur, other factors will need to be considered which don’t include processed placenta pills because the vast majority of placenta pills with not be back with parents if collected and processed correctly until after the first 24 hours, and even then only 2-4 pills consumed in that crucial stage (30-40 hours), assuming the pills have been the issue at all.
In the past 13 years when supporting families with infant feeding in the early days, other factors have always been relevant when supply has become an issue which are pre-existing, or a result of what happened at birth & immediately after birth.
Is there any retained placenta? Is there insufficient milk transfer due to positioning & attachment (which mostly goes unrecognised by healthcare professionals)? Is baby having difficulty due to tongue tie? Were any drugs given in labour? Did any other factors during labour inhibit milk production? Does mum have a low iron count, an undiagnosed thyroid condition, diabetes or insufficient glandular tissue? Are there any pharmaceutical supplements being used which cause issues with milk production? Is there a combination of factors? Does baby have any issues at all, or maybe nobody knows yet.
The questions above are not a complete picture, or a comprehensive list of possibilities. They are just some of the things seen by infant feeding specialists which become part of the problem and quite often haven’t been recognised in the first days after birth, leaving an already compromised supply at further risk.
Milk supply relies on hormones, but it also relies on milk transfer and removal – less milk removed equals less milk produced and so a reduction in supply can occur gradually, or quickly if not recognised in the first days after birth.
Your latch is great! Something parents hear a lot, because a full feed hasn’t been observed and results in a baby unable to feed effectively, despite parents thinking all is ok because of a quick visual check.
Another factor which needs to be considered is the increased use of oxytocin (during labour and/or the birth of the placenta) and the effect we know that has on the endocrine system and therefore has a knock-on effect on infant feeding.
The bottom line is, this is not as black and white as it has been presented.
It is unethical to simply imply “placenta pills cause low supply”. This statement is causing concern amongst parents, putting breastfeeding dyads at risk of stopping breastfeeding and also doesn’t correlate with the vast majority of anecdotal reports. There are far more people using Syntometrin and Syntocinon which we know affects the hormones needed to breastfeed. Where is the information parents need to make a decision about the use and the effects of those interventions?
Written by Nikki Mather (breastfeeding counsellor and infant feeding specialist) of PR|SM Placenta Training
If you would like to learn more about placenta consumption, the scientific evidence and the anecdotal reports then take a look at the following links:
- Placenta – Worth Trying? Human Maternal Placentophagia: Possible Benefit and Potential Risks – https://experiment.com/u/fHrVuw
- Human placentophagy: Effects of dehydration and steaming on hormones, metals and bacteria in placenta tissue – https://experiment.com/u/S9Pn7A
- Study: Maternal Placenta Consumption Causes No Harm to Newborns – https://www.unlv.edu/news/article/study-maternal-placenta-consumption-causes-no-harm-newborns-0
- Placenta Remedies Network
- Placenta Services Australia