So the 30-year-old didn’t want to go through that again when, three weeks ago, she gave birth to her daughter, Maxanne.
But officials at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center didn’t go along with her plan. To combat the depression, she wanted to ingest the placenta, the blood- and nutrient-filled sac that connected her to Maxanne during pregnancy.
“I can keep my baby, but I can’t have the link that connected us,” Swanson said about Sunrise’s refusal to release the placenta to her. “This was my last pregnancy. I am not going to have another placenta. To me, it was a big deal to have it, whether I was using it for medicinal reasons or planting it.”
Swanson had planned to give her placenta to a friend to be dried, ground into a powder and packed into capsules.
The theory is that excess hormones build up in the placenta during pregnancy, and new mothers can take the pills and replenish depleted hormones and control that down-in-the-dumps feeling some experience after childbirth.
Instead, Swanson is waiting to hear back from Sunrise officials on whether the placenta will be destroyed.
She met with a lawyer to determine her rights. They sent a letter to the Sunshine Center to have them hold off disposal until a further decision could be made. They still have not heard any word.
The plans were originally for a homebirth, but complications required her to be hospitalized.
On arrival, she voiced her wishes to the nurse. After Maxanne’s birth, though, the hospital’s staff told her they were not comfortable releasing the placenta, Swanson said.
Citing patient privacy laws, Sunrise officials would not discuss Swanson’s case specifically. But they said aside from very narrow exceptions, placentas are not released to patients.
“Like any other body part, placentas contain a lot of blood, which can carry infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis,” said Twinkle Chisholm, a spokeswoman for Sunrise. “We take great measures to prevent disease transmission.”
Frustrated, she says “I didn’t have HIV. I didn’t have hepatitis. Do you think I would be requesting the placenta if I had HIV? That is ridiculous.”
In 2006, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law allowing hospitals to release placentas for spiritual reasons. But if the baby, mother or placenta tests positive for HIV, it is not released.
The placenta is a temporary organ that transfers oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy. It also allows release of carbon monoxide and waste products from the unborn child. The placenta is expelled, with fetal membranes, during the birth.
Though causes of postpartum depression are unclear, experts believe a sudden decrease in hormone levels is to blame. During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces more estrogen and progesterone than needed, and those excess hormones can build up in the placenta.
Within 24 hours after childbirth, the woman’s body stops producing those large amounts of estrogen and progesterone.
Traditionally, postpartum depression is treated with therapy or antidepressants. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, also known as TCM, the belief is since the placenta contains the excess hormones, the placenta could prevent postpartum depression, Selander said.
“Inherently, it makes sense,” Gala said. “The placenta, after just 12 weeks of pregnancy, contains a lot of progesterone and estrogen. After the baby is born, the body doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, so there is a sudden crash.”
Eating the placenta after the baby is delivered seems to be increasing in popularity. To make it into pills seems like a more reasonable alternative to frying it in the pan and eating it like liver.
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