FAIRMONT - Placenta encapsulation wasn't something Jenn George had even heard of five years ago, before the traumatic birth experience of her first child, but a battle with postpartum depression and a desire to grow her family caused her to look into alternative birth practices.
"I wanted more kids," she said, "and I was looking into alternative birth options. I saw placenta encapsulation and I thought, 'What is this?!'"
After learning more it, the Truman woman found her calling preparing human placenta into a pill form for moms of newborns, a practice she believes is beneficial in balancing postpartum hormones, replacing lost iron, increasing lactation and increasing energy levels.
The placenta is a temporary organ created by a pregnant mom that transfers oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the child. It is expelled after the birth of the baby.
Several cultures, mostly commonly in China, use dehydrated placenta in recipes to enhance energy, other traditions ceremonially bury the placenta.
In nature, mammals typically eat the placenta following birth, but humans - especially North American humans - tend to throw out, or incinerate, the organ.
Placenta encapsulation is a modern take on an old practice traditionally used to avoid the difficult postpartum periods some women experience.
George is largely self-taught in methods, learning from books and Internet forums what the best techniques are for safety and efficacy.
The practice is relatively straightforward. George picks up the placenta from the hospital or home and, depending on the needs of the client, either steams the placenta, or prepares it from its raw state. Then she dehydrates the placenta in a typical food dehydrator before grinding it into a fine powder and putting into capsules.
"You can take them as vitamins," she said, although she cautions that women should begin taking one at a time and seeing what happens before taking more. "They do have hormones in them, so you don't know how they will affect them."
Taking placenta in any form is not recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but that has not slowed down the pace of businesses across the country offering encapsulation services.
The practice is allowed because George and other encapsulationists prepare the organ only for the woman who produced it.
"The placenta is yours," George said, "and has your hormones in it rather than a synthetic version or someone elses' hormones."
An average placenta produces 105 to 120 capsules, which can be frozen if the client believes she no longer needs them postpartum and taken at a later date for premenstrual syndrome symptoms or during menopause.
George said she has had steady business since she opened Bella Mama Birth Services, but she occasionally encounters someone uncomfortable with the practice - even accusing her of cannibalism.
"I don't think it is cannibalism," she said. "It is a part of you, but it isn't an arm. ... Other mammals do it, so why not? It is not going to hurt you."
George offers other birth services as well as placenta encapsulation through Bella Mama, including babywearing training and lactation support.
She is working toward her certification in lactation support, to add to her Bloodborn Pathogens for Placental Encapsulation Professionals certification.
"I am really passionate about birth stuff," she said.
George has experience taking her product as well. After her second child was born, she took the encapsulated placenta and says she had a smoother postpartum recovery.