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Local mom makes medicine out of placentas

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Ivy Parrish is a placenta encapsulator. Ivy Parrish is a placenta encapsulator.
Placenta pills. Placenta pills.
Placenta artwork plays on the "tree of life" analogy given to the placenta. Placenta artwork plays on the "tree of life" analogy given to the placenta.

By Victoria Hansen
vhansen@abcnews4.com

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- It's 9 p.m. and the kids are in bed. While most people are winding down, Ivy Parrish is just getting started.

"I was really interested in it after I had my second child. I didn't really know about it before then," said Parrish.

The mother of three pulls out a small red bio-hazard hospital bag from her refrigerator and sets it on the table. She snips the top and snaps on gloves before pulling out a plump, brownish-red placenta.

"This was a big baby," she said, transferring it to a container.

Yes, she's handling a placenta, the one-time life line between mother and child.

Parrish carefully slides it onto a glass dish and delicately cuts it into strips. Yes, there is blood.  She is wearing gloves, but it's not for the faint of heart.

"At first, I thought it was kind of weird that I was cutting up somebody else's placenta because it came from a person," said Parrish. "But then I realized you know, it really is medicine."

Parrish is a placenta encapsulator. She turns placentas into pills. She says it helps make the idea of women eating their own placentas a little easier to swallow.

"There are hormones, there are vitamins, like iron which obviously gives you energy," she said.

The idea still doesn't sit well with many, but Parrish says before you judge, listen to her story.

"When I got pregnant with my third child, I knew right away that's what I wanted to do," she said.

Parrish had heard about the heath benefits of mothers eating their own placentas from fellow moms. They told her it gave them energy, helped produce milk for breast-feeding and could ward off post partum depression.

Then she researched it and listened closer.

"I wanted all of those amazing feelings and to make sure that my kids were continuing to get milk and that I was the happiest mom on the planet," Parrish said.

So, she tried it.

"I was full of energy beyond the amount of energy that I needed, so much so that I couldn't take my pills in the afternoon because they'd keep me up at night because I had so much energy," she said.

Now Parrish is sold and is selling to others, literally.

"Most of my clients are mainstream moms. They just want to do something natural," said Parrish. "They don't want to have to depend on formula if their breast milk doesn't keep up or they don't want to have any hormonal problems with post partum depression."

One of her clients, Jessica Munday, suffered from post partum depression in the past. She tried the pills with her youngest child and is convinced.

"Major difference," said Munday. "I wish I would have done it with the other two. I wish I would have known about it."

Munday's good friend Jessica Cahoon is still a little skeptical. She has yet to take her placenta pills, but they're there in case she needs them.

"They look just like a normal vitamin or a regular pill," said Cahoon.

Back to Parrish's kitchen, turning placentas into pills is quite a process. She puts the strips in a dehydrator, then finely grinds them into powder with a blender.

From there, the dried placenta granules are placed in capsules and popped into bottles, ready to go.

"I've been doing this for about two years," said Parrish. "I've probably done 200 to 250 placentas, maybe even more."

Parrish also does placenta prints. Before encapsulating, she gingerly poses the placenta in its tree like shape.

"If you think about how the placenta looks, it has a long trunk which is the umbilical cord. Then it has these veins," said Parrish. "Throughout the medical community it's kind of considered like a tree of life."

She then covers the placenta with plastic wrap, dips a paint brush and gets to work.

"I paint around the veins, sometimes leaving open spaces," she said.

Finally, Parrish places a heavy piece of paper on top, presses firmly but smoothly, then peels it back to reveal her art.

Cahoon appreciates the art.

"It's interesting, it's neat," said Cahoon. "I think the actual painting is kind of a cool concept."

But what do doctors think about this passion for placentas? Not the art so much, but the pills.  Are they  safe? Could they really work?

We reached out to several local doctors, but few wanted to weigh in, saying they simply don't have enough information. Placenta encapsulation is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and there appears to be no long term study on its potential risks and benefits.

Dr. Meghan Lynch with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners and practices at Mount Pleasant OB/GYN did get back to us.

"If a patient asked me, I wouldn't say no,"  said Dr. Lynch. "But I would tell them about my concerns."

Dr. Lynch says there are hormones, protein and iron in the placenta and it's possible the iron helps give new moms energy. But she's worried about the lack of regulation.

"How are they tested to ensure what you think is in them actually is? Does the encapsulation process destroy the proteins or hormones, basically making them placebo pills?" she asked.

She also worries about sterilization and the possibility of infection.

"I think that this is an expanding area of interest for patients and alternative medicine, but more research is needed before doctors could safely endorse or condemn it," Lynch said.

Parrish understands the cynicism, but she wants to change the perception of placentas.

"I really would like them to think of it as something holistic and helpful and something that would nurture their bodies and not be so grossed out," Parrish said.

Still not convinced?

"Well until they do it themselves, they'll never really know," she said.

For more on Ivy Parrish you can go to her web site at www.livingtreepes.com.


  • Victoria Hansen

    Email: vhansen@abcnews4.com Reporter Profile




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