Pregnancy and labor is rough, but you know what nobody talks about? The bloody aftermath (literally)! I mean the baby blues, exhaustion, constipation, low milk supply, and OH the bleeding! Come on, I just went through ten months of pain, birthed a baby, and NOW I gotta deal with this. I would do just about anything to find a magic cure for these post baby troubles, buuuuut does anything include eating an organ?! Hmmmm, did I say anything?
Before we go any further, tell me exactly what placenta encapsulation is?
Placenta encapsulation is a process that involves dehydrating & grinding the placenta into a powder so that it can be loaded into capsules. There’s quite a few ways that the placenta can be ingested (I make placenta truffles!) but this one is usually the most palatable, stay-fresh method, and it is the one that most women choose when they decide they want to reap the benefits of placenta ingestion.
Why on earth would anyone actually want to have placenta for a snack? All kidding aside, what are the actual benefits from this? Don’t give me the short list here, I want to know them all!
Believe it or not, placenta ingestion is actually a really normal practice for most mammals! While it’s not clear exactly why mammals ingest the placenta (more studies need to be done!) we know that mammals seem to have an immense attraction to their placenta, often choosing to work on ingesting it before they even pay much attention to their babies!
Humans are mammals, so it stands to reason that they can reap the benefits of placenta encapsulation too! Fortunately, no one is asking them to take a bite out of their freshly delivered placenta before they even get a snuggle in with their new baby. Although more research needs to be done, the benefits for placenta encapsulation are said to include:
- Replenishment of a multitude of nutrients, most notably iron (a non-constipating form of iron, which is wonderful for postpartum since most new moms have lost some blood during childbirth but also are having plenty of general soreness down below that makes the thought of dreaded postpartum poop overwhelming).
- Replacement of pregnancy hormones! After giving birth, pregnancy hormones drop rapidly. Replacing small amounts of these hormones may allow a more gradual decline in hormone levels, which can reduce the risk for or symptoms of the baby blues or postpartum depression.
- Improvement of lactation. We’re not sure why, but anecdotally many women have commented that placenta capsules have improved their milk supply.
- Reduction of postpartum fatigue. It could be the hormones, the iron, or something else, but many woman comment that the placenta energizes them in a way that even coffee can’t!
- Decrease in postpartum bleeding. The placenta capsules may assist the uterus in shrinking down faster, which helps to control postpartum bleeding and might even get you into your pre-pregnancy pants a little faster 🙂
Is this the new trend or has this been around longer than Taylor Swift?
You’ve got the wrong celebrity! Kourtney Kardashian did it 🙂 In all seriousness, ingestion of the placenta has actually been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, but it is fairly recent that it has become more popular in the Western world. Even over the few years I have been doing placenta encapsulation, I have seen it become significantly more mainstream. The public is catching on!
Now before I go pop a placenta pill I would like to know if there are actual studies being done on this?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of studies yet! One survey study was done a year or so ago that simply asked women how they ingested their placenta and what effects they reported. Most of them chose to have their placenta encapsulated, and 95% said they would do it again! The most common benefits reported were improved mood, increased energy, and improved lactation. Potential negatives reported were “placenta burps” (kind of like cod liver oil burps), headaches, and unappealing taste/smell (it does smell like you would expect organ meat to smell).
Here’s a summary of the study: CLICK HERE
Now, after I had my babies, they actually showed me my placenta, I think as proof that it was actually delivered and nothing was left behind. Do you then step in and take the placenta in a cooler or your purse or something? My placenta looked like a brain or a piece of meat, so I would think you would need to keep that thing on ice!
That’s cool you got to see it! Not all women are offered that opportunity (and some don’t want to). You’re right, it’s important to treat the placenta exactly as you would a piece of meat. When a client books me for placenta encapsulation, I send them detailed instructions about how to store their placenta until it can be picked up or they can bring it home, depending where they want the encapsulation process done. Most (about 80%) of my clients elect to have me pick up their placenta which means I will come to the hospital and get it within 12-24 hours of the birth. I always transport the placenta in a cooler, either theirs or mine. As long as there is plenty of ice, it’s stays very cold, even if it has to be kept in the car on a hot day—though let’s be real, we only have about 2 months of that in Chicago.
I know a pill is the only way I would eat my placenta, but ARE there other ways to eat it?
Indeed! You can eat it raw like all the mammals do, although very few women choose that option. One of the more palatable ways to ingest it raw would be to put a thumbnail size piece in a smoothie. Some of my clients request that I give them some raw pieces back, so I will individually wrap and freeze about a week’s worth of raw placenta pieces for smoothies. It’s also possible to cook up the placenta in a soup or stir fry, although I’ve never personally seen this done or done it for any of my clients.
Even when choosing to encapsulate, there’s a couple ways it can be done. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) method involves draining the blood from the placenta, lightly steaming it with ginger (which is in the steaming water but does not end up in the capsules), and dehydrating it at a high temperature, 160 F. The TCM method tends to be more balancing and is great for those with anxiety, although anyone can reap the benefits. The raw method skips the blood draining and steaming process. The placenta is simply sliced up and dehydrated at a low temperature, 120 F. The raw method tends to be more energizing.
The placenta can also be ingested in a tincture, which is similar to making homemade vanilla extract. A small piece of placenta is put in vodka or another alcohol and agitated daily for 4-6 weeks. The tincture can be placed in juice, tea, or other beverages, or taken directly on the tongue in times of stress, mood changes, or low milk supply.
Finally, my special option! I think I am the only encapsulator in Chicago that does this. I can use the dehydrated placenta powder in chocolate truffles—yum! I use all fair trade, organic ingredients—and don’t worry, I’m sure to add something with an extra crunch to disguise the graininess of the placenta powder. I actually developed this recipe using my own placenta, so I know it tastes delicious!
Other non-edible projects can be done with the placenta, including herbal salve (sheep placenta is actually included in some skin care products), placenta artwork, and dehydrated umbilical cord keepsakes.
Now I see a regular old baby doc, so what will my doc say about this? What about the hospital, are they cool with you taking my placenta away?
Most doctors are totally cool with this! I think sometimes women expect that doctors won’t have heard of it because it’s something only home birthing, midwife-loving women do, but the reality is that I do more placenta encapsulations for women who see an OB than for women who see a midwife. I have only encountered a couple OBs who seemed to have an issue with it. Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, which does the most deliveries of any Chicagoland hospital by a LOT, is totally comfortable with placenta encapsulation and even has an official release form for women to sign so they can take their placenta home. Most hospitals have a similar form and policies, and the nurses tend to be very happy to package the placenta up for you and fill your cooler with plenty of ice.
How do I know that I wont get sick from this?
To be totally honest, we can’t be 100% sure! The placenta is like any other herb, supplement, or medication—we don’t know exactly how you’ll react. We can, however, decrease the chances of you getting sick by ensuring that the placenta was properly stored, hiring an encapsulator who follows proper sanitizing procedures (more on that later!), and following guidelines for when a placenta can and cannot be encapsulated. For example, if the mother develops an infection of the uterus, placenta, or amniotic membranes during labor, the placenta is not suitable for encapsulation.
I can say that after a couple hundred placenta encapsulations, only one client noted symptoms that required her to stop taking the capsules, and we still aren’t sure her symptoms were from that or something else in her diet or environment.
What if I don’t want to see it? I hate to be like a picky toddler, but I don’t know that I could eat it if I had to see the process being done. Is there a way for someone to just take it and make me the pills, so I can pretend like I don’t know whats going on?
YES! Some women are clambering to get a hand on their own placenta the second it’s out, while others would prefer not to know it even existed in any other form but capsules. I offer my clients the choice of where they would like the placenta encapsulation done—either their home or mine—because many of my clients feel strongly one way or the other. Some are dying to watch and even videotape the process (which I am totally comfortable with). Others are way freaked out and want me to take it and bring it back in a neat little bottle. I have strict transport, storage, and sanitization procedures, so clients can rest assured that their placenta will be well taken care in both locations.
This is your profession, but how is that you know how to do this correctly? For Mama’s considering it, how would they know they are not being scammed? Should I be searching for my encapsulator on Craiglist?
Please, not Craigslist! I took an in-person training and received certification through a professional placenta encapsulation training program. To meet certification requirements, I had to take the training, complete a blood borne pathogens course, read several books about the placenta and postpartum, and demonstrate competency with my methods of encapsulation and sanitization of equipment. I also had to hand in reviews from several clients. As an extra bonus, I spent a year and a half in medical school before I decided I wanted to be a midwife instead and am taking my boards to be licensed as a nurse in just a few weeks, so I have a background in blood borne pathogens, among other related topics, that most encapsulators don’t have.
The scary thing is, there’s plenty of people out there, even doulas, who watched a YouTube video to find out how to do placenta encapsulation. They may be doing things like dehydrating in the oven (a no-no because you can burn the placenta rather than dehydrate it, not to mention sanitization issues), washing their equipment with soap and water (eek! I use hospital grade and food grade sanitizers that kill all blood borne pathogens as well as a variety of other disease-causing organisms), and not having a clue about the difference between TCM and raw method or storage guidelines for the placenta.
Asking friends for recommendations is a wonderful idea, and if you don’t know anyone who has done it, seek out Yelp or browse an encapsulator’s website. Ask them how they were trained, how their equipment is sanitized, what the expected turnover time is, and any other questions you may have. You want to feel comfortable with this person—they’re either coming into your home when you are in a vulnerable postpartum state or they are taking your organ away from you and bringing it back in another form! Choosing someone to encapsulate your placenta is NOT a time to budget or cut costs, and encapsulator’s that are cheaper than market value may not have the proper training and equipment for the job. It’s an organ and you’re going to eat it!
What do you say to people who call this cannibalism? I mean you are eating a part of your body.
Surprisingly, not many of my clients have had this concern! I suppose it could be true, but it all depends on how you look at it. I’ve definitely tried my own breast milk before, which is vaguely similar. I will say that I would rather eat my own placenta over someone else’s 🙂
Ok, so I am not particularly excited to eat my lunch now, HOWEVER, postpartum everything sucks, and if this seriously has the benefits that have been reported then why not!? Bring on the placenta!
Maura Winkler is a birth & postpartum doula, placenta encapsulator, birth & newborn photographer, and student nurse midwife. She is passionate about families having a positive, empowering experience from pregnancy to birth to postpartum, and beyond. Maura lives in Berwyn with her husband and spunky little girl. Her business, MW Birth, serves most of the Chicagoland area. You can contact her via her website, www.mwbirth.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 716.799.3290.