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Giving birth is one of the most athletic events a woman will ever go through. It’s taxing in many ways: physically, emotionally, and mentally. But it’s also enormously hormonally draining! Placenta encapsulation is one way women are recovering after childbirth.
Postpartum depression affects around one in seven women. While there are many triggers, the sudden hormone drop after birth can cause major mood changes. Beyond that, birth depletes a mother’s iron stores. A new mom may find herself battling physical repair, emotions, and nutritional deficiencies.
As a mom of 6 kids myself, I know how hard it can be to take care of yourself after giving birth! The good news is nature may have the solution for new mothers… and it’s in the placenta.
What Is Placenta Encapsulation?
If you’ve heard about eating the placenta, chances are you may have shrunk in horror. Or maybe you’re wondering how exactly are you supposed to eat it? Do you cook it like a pot roast? What does it taste like? Does it go well with garlic?
Okay, jokes aside… These questions are often a major turn-off for women. Maybe you might want the benefits of placenta consumption, but you’re just not sure. In recent years a better way of eating the placenta has emerged: placenta encapsulation.
What Does Placenta Look Like?
The average placenta weighs about one pound, is 22 cm across, and is 2 cm thick. Placentas range in size from one person to the next (and even one pregnancy to the next). They’re a deep, dark red color and look a little bit like beef liver.
The History of Eating Placenta
Placentophagy is the technical term for eating the placenta after birth. It’s common in other mammals, but not so much in humans, according to anthropologists. Although placenta was mentioned in ancient Chinese texts as a natural remedy.
Placenta consumption started to become popular in the US in the 1970s. This later evolved into the process of placenta encapsulation we know today. Some moms make pills, while others throw a chunk of the raw placenta into a fruit smoothie. There are even recipes for placenta tinctures. You do you, but today I’m going to focus on placenta encapsulation and its potential benefits.
Step one to placental encapsulation is saving it after you’ve given birth. A doula, nurse, or encapsulation specialist collects the placenta to prepare it. If you’re doing it yourself be sure to keep it cold (on ice) until you’re ready to make pills.
If you deliver in a hospital or birthing center make sure the birthing team knows you want to save the placenta. Some hospitals don’t allow saving placentas since they’re considered a waste material and blood is involved. If the birthing place isn’t on board and it’s something you really want to do, you may want to switch locations.
If you deliver in a birthing center or at home, saving the placenta is easy. Some birthing centers even allow placenta specialists to collect the placenta directly from them. This allows you to focus on getting you and your baby home to settle in.
The specialists often collect the placenta from home and deliver the capsules once they’re ready. The most important thing is to keep the placenta refrigerated or on ice until it’s ready to process. This helps avoid bacterial contamination and other pathogens.
Steaming and Dehydration
Once you have the placenta, it’s steamed for around 20 minutes, and then slowly dehydrated over 1-2 days. This preserves the nutrients and makes the placenta safe to encapsulate. You can do this yourself or have a specialist do it for you.
Next, the placenta is ground into a fine powder and put into capsules. Placenta encapsulation costs depend on your area but can cost $100-$300 or more. You’ll get about 100-200 capsules depending on how large the placenta was and how finely it’s ground.
Once you get your placenta capsules, you can take them daily. The dosing schedule can vary based on your specialist’s recommendations. Women typically start with more daily pills and gradually decrease until they’re gone.
What Does the Research Say?
What makes a woman want to encapsulate her placenta? For the proposed health benefits, of course!
This is where it gets a little tricky. Since placenta encapsulation isn’t exactly a mainstream idea, there’s not a lot of research behind it. While it’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has some history, there isn’t much research behind the concept. There are few randomized controlled trials or placebo-controlled studies.
We’ll discuss the evidence that we do know: potential risks as well as potential benefits.
There are a few key ways that placenta encapsulation can carry some potential risks.
- If you were positive for Group B Strep during pregnancy, it could remain in the placenta. Eating the placenta could pass the infection to your breastfeeding infant which can be serious. This is why GBS-positive moms are given prophylactic antibiotics during hospital births.
- If you had an unplanned premature birth, wait to encapsulate your placenta. Although rare, your healthcare provider should first rule out bacterial infection as the cause.
- If the placenta wasn’t correctly stored or prepared it could have harmful bacteria. It could make you sick like any other type of food poisoning. This is why using a placenta encapsulation specialist is so helpful. If you go the DIY route be very sure you know what you’re doing.
- Nutrient levels in a placenta can vary widely. If a woman is relying only on placenta pills for certain nutrients this could lead to nutrient deficiencies. The lack of nutrition may have negative consequences for both mom and baby.
Other than that, most risks are theoretical and there isn’t enough evidence to really know. Many medical professionals and ob/gyns are skeptical or outright against placenta encapsulation. It wasn’t a part of their conventional gynecological training.
What’s in Placenta?
So why eat it? Eating the placenta can provide nutrients and postpartum support. Birth is a major event, and some argue the human body intelligently prepares for this. The very organ that sustains the baby can help sustain the new mother’s transition after giving birth.
While research is limited on eating placenta, some of it is positive or at least doesn’t point to many risks. Researchers looked at placentas after birth and found they have varying levels of minerals and hormones. They discovered small concentrations of:
Placenta’s of baby girls also had growth hormone present.
While the above minerals were in small amounts, iron was close to the recommended daily allowance of 18 mg. The researchers in this study did not look at vitamin content. Other research found placentas contained only two or three mg of iron, about 24% of the RDA.
People who recommend eating placenta say it can help with:
- Postpartum nutrients and iron levels
- Help prevent postpartum baby blues (aka depression)
- Support more milk supply
- Decrease postpartum bleeding
While research doesn’t confirm these claims, some studies show a difference between women who eat their placenta and those who don’t. It definitely warrants a closer look at potential benefits.
Could placenta encapsulation have a placebo effect? Anything is possible! Until the research catches up, the decision to pursue placenta encapsulation remains personal.
If you’re interested in placenta encapsulation, then a specialist can help you determine if it’s right for you. Seek out a midwife, doula, or someone else who has done it before.
Popular Views on Placenta Encapsulation
A quick Instagram search comes back with 110,000 hashtags for “placenta encapsulation.” It’s increasingly popular among social media influencers in the natural health world. You’ll find plenty of personal accounts of how placenta encapsulation was a positive experience. Some say they didn’t notice any benefits, and others think eating your own placenta is gross.
Birth is an individualized experience—even from one pregnancy to the next. How you handle your postpartum experience can be different from someone else’s and even from a previous pregnancy that you had.
If you’re thinking about eating placenta, it’s important to make sure you’re deciding based on your own factors. We can’t rely on others’ experiences, or because someone on social media said we should (or shouldn’t).
What Are the Benefits of Placenta Encapsulation?
Traditional research methods have not yet established the benefits of placenta encapsulation. It’s thought to help with postpartum mood, nutrient levels, hormone balance, more milk production, and energy.
Does Placenta Encapsulation Really Work?
Placenta pills work for some and don’t work for others. Every pregnancy, birth, and placenta is unique. The benefits also depend on the timing of preparation, the skill of the encapsulator, and how they’re consumed. There aren’t any standardized protocols for this, so it is important to work with an expert.
Why Shouldn’t You Eat Your Placenta?
According to the CDC, there are several potential risks. Moms with Group B Strep infections who eat placenta could pass the infection via breastmilk. Other concerns center around bacteria contamination, and inadequate nutrients to support mom.
When Should the Placenta be Encapsulated?
The placenta needs to be stored appropriately, steamed, and dehydrated within a day or two after birth. You can start consuming the capsules shortly after to get the most benefits.
What About DIY Placenta Encapsulation?
Should you attempt to DIY your placenta encapsulation or find an expert? That answer depends on a lot of factors. Consider that improperly stored or prepared placenta can cause serious bacterial contamination. No one ever wants food poisoning, especially within days of having a baby!
If doing it yourself, make sure you learn from someone who is highly experienced and can follow detailed instructions. Remember: you will be freshly postpartum when you’re trying to do this. It may not be the best time to have to focus on preparing a detailed “recipe.” Plus, you may want to focus all your time on bonding with your new baby.
In this case, finding a pro who offers encapsulation services may be a better choice. Unless your significant other is exceptional at following instructions, and not totally weirded out by cooking human placenta.
The Bottom Line
Should you encapsulate your placenta? There is no right or wrong answer. There certainly seem to be potential benefits, but there may also be some risks. Doctors can’t always rule out infection.
If maternal placentophagy interests you, start asking questions about it early on in your pregnancy. It may take time to find a professional who you trust to handle it. Or a birthing location that will help handle and transfer your placenta to your preparer.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board-certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What do you think about placenta encapsulation? Have you ever tried it or thought about trying it? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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