The Benefits of Placenta Encapsulation
Placenta encapsulation. If your expecting, I’m sure you’ve heard a few people talking about it. Some people love it and completely rave about it, while others think it’s flat out weird and gross. But some people don’t know what it is. What is placenta encapsulation and what are the pros and cons of it?
First, if you’re not sure what the placenta is, it is an organ that develops on the wall of the uterus during pregnancy and provides nutrients, blood, and oxygen to the baby while also removing waste from the mother. Think of it as a filter, but it’s also your baby’s life-line.
After pushing and giving birth to your baby, you may think you are finished, but you’re not. You then have to deliver the afterbirth, which is your placenta. Once the placenta is out, you can choose to discard it or keep it. But why would anyone want to keep it? Well, some people keep if for religious beliefs, some plant it in their yard with a tree, and other people eat it by either cooking it, putting it into a smoothie or, the most common form, encapsulating it. Many people believe that the placenta offers lots of different benefits that help recovery after birth. I know, it sounds odd, but the custom of consuming the placenta is centuries old. It is a controversial tradition but it has been gaining popularity in the United States over the past few decades.
So, what is placenta encapsulation?
Placenta encapsulation is a process in which, immediately following the birth of your baby, your placenta is taken, cleaned, dehydrated and ground into a course powder, which is then placed into small capsules that look exactly like any other vitamin or supplement we might take. It is then given to the mother for her to take over the course of the next few weeks or months after giving birth.
Why would a mother want to consume her placenta?
Great question! The reason why is, it is believed to have numerous health benefits. The placenta contains a massive amount of crucial hormones and iron that leave a woman’s body once the placenta is born. Humans are one of the few mammals that do not eat their placentas – a practice known as placentophagia and it is believed that consuming the placenta can help new mothers maintain their hormone and iron levels in the few weeks after the birth, which can speed healing and help curb fatigue and anxiety in new mothers. Pretty cool!
This practice has been gaining a lot of traction especially since some celebrities have been encapsulating their placentas. Alicia Silverstone, who we all remember as Cher in the 90’s comedy “Clueless,” said that she ate her placenta after giving birth. Actress January Jones from “Mad Men” did the same. Kourtney Kardashian from “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” shared on her instagram her placenta pills (aka “happy pills”) and how they have been “life changing.”
Even her sister, Kim Kardashian, shared on her website that she too got her placenta encapsulated after the birth of her second child, Saint West.
What are the benefits of placenta encapsulation?
First, I will say that there is little scientific research available regarding placental encapsulation, it’s consumption and the benefits. However, check out PlacentaBenefits.info or the Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network to see a number of potential advantages. Some of them are:
- Increased release of the hormone oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to normal size, reduces the amount of postpartum bleeding and encourages bonding with the infant
- Increase in CRH, a stress-reducing hormone
- Decrease in postpartum depression levels and “baby blues”
- Increases the mother’s energy levels
- Restoration of iron levels in the blood
- Increase in milk production
How can placentophagia help curb postpartum mood problems?
Research published in The Journal of Nutrition shows that postpartum iron-deficiency (anemia) can actually cause postpartum depression and anxiety. Research published in The Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology also shows that fatigue is one of the major causes of postpartum depression, but mothers report that consuming the placenta can boost energy levels. Though few scientific studies have been spent on placentophagia itself, the combined existing research suggests that ingesting the iron-rich placenta may be a good first line of defense against postpartum mood problems. Disclaimer: This is not to suggest that placentophagia is a cure or treatment for established mental health problems, nor should it replace any medically-prescribed treatment. It may only be one tool in helping to curb or limit postpartum depressive symptoms.
How do I get my placenta encapsulated?
Yes, you could choose to dehydrate and encapsulate your own placentas yourself, however, most people are hiring a placenta encapsulation specialist. A placenta professional will normally have special training and equipment to process the placenta and should be following the OSHA safety guidelines for exposure to blood borne pathogens. Most often, the placenta professional in your area is probably a doula, midwife, or other birth worker professional who works closely with birthing mothers.
Generally your placenta professional will pick up your placenta from your birth place (whether it be at hospital, birth center or at your home), and process it in their workspace on special equipment reserved for placentas only. The placenta pills are then usually dropped off to the mother within 2-3 days or they can be picked up from the placenta professional and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
What are the methods to encapsulation?
There are two main methods for encapsulation, and before hiring a professional, you should ask which methods they offer so you can choose the one you prefer. Each recipe has pros and cons.
- RAW Method: This method delivers the highest potency of the pills because it is not cooked before it’s dried, but these pills expire after approximately one year of freezer storage.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine Method: This recipe creates a pill that can be stored indefinitely with proper refrigeration, but is less potent than the raw form. Some women want to save their pills for times when they are having difficult menstrual cycles or for when they experience menopause. This is then the method they should choose.
How often should I take my placenta pills?
With encapsulation, the placenta is steamed, dehydrated and ground into 35 to 70 capsules, depending on the size and thickness of the placenta. Most specialists prescribe one capsule in the morning and one in the afternoon for about three weeks or until you run out. This amount gives the body a chance to heal and restore itself.
It is said that taking too many placenta pills a day can make women hyper stimulated, nervous and unable to sleep – almost as though they have had several energy drinks. Moms need to understand that the pills are meant to restore them, keep them feeling calm and balanced and not reinvigorate them.
The Bottom Line…
Yes, there is little research available to either support or oppose the tradition of placental encapsulation. However, it is recommended that the times a placenta should not be encapsulated or ingested is when there was an infection (chorioamnionitis) or if it has been touched by meconium, the baby’s first poop. There are a number of proposed benefits of the custom though, and limited risks if the placenta if stored correctly and ingested only by the mother.
Check out my tour of a commercial grade placenta encapsulation kitchen:
I hope this answers a lot of the questions that you had about placenta encapsulation. I would love to hear any stories of women who have done it, whether good or bad. Please share in our comments below!