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Duluth doula's placenta pills give new moms a nutrition choice

Jesse Dykhuis is the only doula in Duluth who offers placenta encapsulation services. She and her friend’s cars have stickers on the windows to advertise her services. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)1 / 8
Jesse Dykhuis, who calls her business The First Place on Earth, is the only doula in Duluth to offer placenta encapsulation services. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)2 / 8
Jesse Dykhuis — whose business, “The First Place on Earth,” offers placenta encapsulation services — removes pieces of placenta that were dried using a dehydrator (at right) and places them into a food processor, where they’ll be ground to a powder. The powder is added to gel capsules that can be ingested like a pill. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)3 / 8
Jesse Dykhuis uses a small food processor to grind the dehydrated placenta into a powder. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)4 / 8
Wearing surgical gloves, Jesse Dykhuis carefully places tops on capsules filled with dried and ground placenta. She packages the piles in a jar for her customers. A typical placenta yields about 190 capsules. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)5 / 8
Jesse Dykhuis makes prints of each placenta and umbilical cord on paper as a memento for her customers. Sometimes the women are only interested in the capsules, so Dykhuis holds onto the prints, which she hopes someday to exhibit as art. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)6 / 8
Jesse Dykhuis spreads out the dried and ground placenta into the bottom halves of 180 gelatin capsules. Once tamped down and leveled, she slips the top of each capsule into place. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)7 / 8
Jesse Dykhuis displays the finished product of her placenta encapsulation service, a jar of about 190 capsules containing dried, powdered placenta. She gives her customers guidelines on use. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)8 / 8

Jesse Dykhuis is a birth doula and even she was a bit “creeped out” about the notion of women eating their placenta after birth to improve their mental and physical health.

“I didn’t want anything to do with it,” she said from her home in the East Hillside neighborhood of Duluth.

A sign that she’s come full circle on the practice, she proudly sports a decal on her car supporting what is now a large part of her birth services. It says “Ask Me About Placenta Encapsulation.”

The name of her placenta business is First Place on Earth, a take-off on the controversial shop in downtown Duluth.

The cheeky name, along with that sticker on her car, is an attempt to “plant the seeds in different way” when it comes to placenta therapy.

Dykhuis is now about 500 clients in since starting the service in 2009, and almost all of them credit her placenta pills — not to mention smoothies and truffles — for helping ease postpartum conditions and improving lactation.

Dykhuis prepares her client’s placentas by drying them and then putting them into pill capsules and other products. It is a personal process, she said, not a general drug business for postpartum. The therapy only works through eating your own prepared placenta. The cost is $250.

More studies are emerging on the potential for placenta consumption. Most are anecdotal — simply what women report. Medical anthropologists in a 2013 study found that 73 percent of women reported positive effects from placenta therapy. It cites better moods and increased milk production among the benefits.

Placenta therapy has become more “normalized” with the growing popularity of options for births outside of hospitals, Dykhuis said, but she also works with women who give birth in the more traditional settings.

When she added placenta therapy to her practice, she was among the “crunchiest outliers” in the home birth business, she said.

A friend in the birthing community showed her studies and her interest grew. Most mammals do it, she said, so why not humans?

“The responses were all overwhelming,” she said of her early clients. “Now it’s more normalized. Over time, there’s been more credibility.”

She works in area hospitals both with her doula work and the placenta gathering. Her name is given to pregnant women as an option, she says. Dykhuis has the only placenta encapsulation service in Duluth.

“I still think it’s pretty ‘out there,’ ” she said of the concept. “I’m busy, but I’m working with a small percentage of (pregnant women),” she said. She’d like to see more clients searching for natural remedies.

Lauren Kachinske of Esko found out about Dykhuis’ placenta therapy two weeks before giving birth to her second child. She had suffered severe postpartum depression after her first birth and was anxious about another bout.

“I didn’t even want to hold my baby,” she said. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her, she didn’t feel a connection. She got angry when her firstborn would cry at night.

She suffered through without knowing what was wrong, but she knew “I don’t want to feel that way again,” she recalled thinking to herself.  

The first time she heard about placenta therapy, she was getting a haircut.

“What are you talking about?” she recalled saying. “I don’t even know what that means. It sounds disgusting.”

Kachinske went on Dykhuis’ website and gathered information. Her interest was piqued because she leans toward natural remedies versus medications typical of western medicine. She talked to Dykhuis and felt more at ease. She was “real” about what her clients could expect, Kachinske said.

All Dykhuis says is it might help with postpartum depression and milk production. “I’m careful to not oversell it,” she said.

Kachinske received a placenta smoothie while still in the hospital and started on placenta pills two days after her second birth.

“I felt amazing,” Kachinske said. It was a total change from the time after her first birth, she said. She woke up in the middle of the night to cuddle with her baby. She now knew the “magic” other women felt with a newborn.

“I never really felt like that. It was the best ever.” She thought, “This is what they’re talking about.”

That first birth had been caesarian. She used an epidural to control pain in the second birth. When it came time for her third child, she wanted to have a more natural experience.

Because of the placenta therapy success, she called on Dykhuis to be her doula, helping her throughout the pregnancy, birth and recovery.

“Much of my work is just loving mothers and what they do,” Dykhuis said.

Dykhuis said one of her early inspirations to get into placenta therapy came through a woman who had an early birth in a hospital and was put on pills to control her anxiety.

“She wanted to jump out a window,” Dykhuis said. “That’s where I gained more interest in postpartum.”

She said she’s had about 500 placenta clients and only three have said the pills had no or little effect.

All Kachinske cares about is how she’s felt after her last two births.

“I suggest it to everybody,” Kachinske said.

It’s stories like those that inspire Dykhuis.

“This is incredibly rewarding work,” Dykhuis said. “To be there when people need help.”

***

Placenta encapsulation

Jesse Dykhuis outlines her placenta encapsulation service on her website, duluthdoula.com:

Once both baby and placenta have been birthed, Dykhuis is available for pick-up. She offers  two main methods of placenta service and a few add-ons. In most cases, the placenta is returned within

72 hours.

Raw dehydration method

This method approaches placenta encapsulation from the theory that “less is more” and the goal is to use minimal processing in order to best preserve all the qualities of placenta while still delivering a final product that is attractive, easy to dose and highly effective. Dykhuis will slice the placenta and dehydrate at a very low temperature to preserve hormone content and nutritional benefits. When completely dry, she grinds the placenta into a fine powder and places it in capsules. She can also place the powder in smoothies or truffles.

Traditional Chinese medicine method

The placenta is gently steamed with fresh ginger, dried chiles and fresh lemon. Cooking the placenta before dehydrating is thought to make the placenta’s benefits more deeply integrated into the system and also to provide a warming effect. After the placenta is fully cooked, Dykhuis slices and dehydrates it. The placenta is then ground and the powder is put into capsules.

Dykhuis can be reached at (612) 481-0830 or jesse@duluthdoula.com.

***

Study first of its kind

A study published in 2013 from the medical anthropology department at the University of Nevada Las Vegas asked 189 women about their experience with placenta therapy. It is the first scholarly study done on the practice. The questions were asked in 2010. Highlights of the study include:

  • 76 percent of the women reported positive experiences
  • The top three positive effects of the therapy were improved mood, increased energy and improved lactation
  • The top three negative reactions were unpleasant burping, headaches and an unappealing taste or smell

Here at home

Jesse Dykhuis, a birth doula who provides placenta encapsulation services, outlines these benefits from eating your own placenta. Details can be found on her website, along with supporting data:

  • Using body’s own hormones to provide postpartum balance
  • Replenishing body’s iron stores to stave off anemia and fatigue, two known precursors to developing baby blues or postpartum depression
  • Giving faster physical healing after delivery, including shorter postpartum bleeding and faster uterine recovery
  • Increasing milk supply and improving breastfeeding relationship
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