If you are unsure what placenta encapsulation is, or perhaps how it is safely done, this is the post for you. I myself was unsure and completely unaware of this, I initially assumed that maybe it was a way to preserve your placenta as a keepsake. Which is just not quite right. So, I decided to dive into discovering the past and how placenta encapsulation began, the research surrounding it, is it safe, and how you even begin to encapsulate your placenta. I learned so much, and I hope that you will be able to understand this better, and make an informed decision for you and baby. Let’s dive in!
I will advise some discretion as there are pictures of placentas, and descriptions of consuming the organ.
- What is Placenta Encapsulation?
- What is the History of Placenta Encapsulation?
- What Does the Research Say About Safety of Placenta Encapsulation?
Table of Contents
What is Placenta Encapsulation?
I was not entirely sure what placenta encapsulation meant, and had visions of placentas preserved in resin (which can be done in various ways, but is not what this means). What Placenta encapsulation really is, is the process of taking your placenta and turning it into pills or capsules to be taken postpartum. That is the most succinct way to put it. If you are unsure what that process entails and why would you do this, keep reading!
What Does a Placenta Look Like?
If you, like me, are a little hazy with everything that was going on during delivery, to fully remember the placenta and what it looked like and need a little refresher, do not fret!
The placenta is the body’s temporary organ to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your baby, as well as take away any waste from your baby. The placenta has two sides to it. The maternal side (that was attached to your uterine wall) and the fetal or baby side.
Without getting too technical, the maternal side of the placenta should be a maroon color and honestly kinda bumpy or like a big red cauliflower. While the baby’s side of the placenta should be shiny, gray and slightly translucent with the umbilical cord coming from it.
Many women wished to utilize the nutrients that the placenta was providing for the baby, and to not waste the organ by throwing it away, so placentophagy (pluh-sen-toe-fuh-gee), or the consuming of the placenta came to be.
If you do not wish to see a picture of the placenta keep scrolling!
What is the History of Eating the Placenta?
Actually, there is not an exact time in early history that is recorded when the birthing mother ate her own placenta. I searched for evidence, but despite many stating it was done in ancient Chinese medicine, the only reference I found was that many homeopathic doctors used a piece of the placenta, but it was for other medicinal uses and not intended for the birthing mother.
There are many cultures that burn the placenta, bury it, or have it dried to hang in certain areas to protect mothers. Interestingly enough, among the first reports of the birthing mother eating the placenta or placentophagy was in 1972. Which is not that long ago, and by medicine standards, fairly recent.
However, after the case was published in the journal in 1972, more women began to try a form of placentophagy or consuming of the placenta. Encapsulation seemed to really gain popularity in the early 2000’s.
How Do you Encapsulate the Placenta
This is not an exact “how to” on encapsulating the placenta, but a general idea so you can better understand what takes place.
The first thing that you need to do is to let your health care provider and team know that you want your placenta. The medical team needs to know so you can sign the necessary paperwork and so they can take necessary steps to: one, not dispose of it after delivery and two, preserve it properly (see below in FAQs for when you may not be able to keep your placenta).
- Needs to be preserved properly, which means stored in the fridge immediately and encapsulated within 4 days. If unable to preserve within 4 days you can freeze it.
- Wash and clean the placenta
- Place the placenta in a steamer or double boiler and steam.
- Once properly steamed it should be a darker brown color and will be thinly sliced
- Once sliced it will be placed in the dehydrator until it is completely dried (this can take 8-18 hrs)
- Plce into a spice grinder or container where it can be pulverized into a powder.
- Load the powder into capsules
- store in a cool dark place.
And voila! You have encapsulated your placenta.
What Does Research Say?
I delved deep into medical journals and midwifery accounts to research both sides of the coin. I found this video to be very helpful in summing up a lot of research without hopefully being too overwhelming or too biased.
Overall, there is not evidence that testifies to the impact of encapsulation or a form of placenta consumption. In some studies, there have been no significant differences between placebo and those taking placenta capsules. It also is true that there are study limitations, and not enough studies have been done to include all intricacies involved. The bottom line is, we need more studies done, to gain better understanding and see if there is any correlation.
Yet, there are also women who swear by placenta encapsulation or placentophagy, and who have shared how their postpartum experiences were so drastically different from their first or last postpartum journey. They truly feel that the positivity is due to their consumption of the placenta.
Who is right and who is wrong?
At this point in time, there is no answer. It is up to you to weigh the risks and the benefits and to include your healthcare provider on your decision and postpartum journey.
What are the Risks?
At first, there seems like there is little risk to placenta encapsulation. Through the steaming and drying method, it seems like the organ is cooked thoroughly . However, when we look a little closer, we can find there are no standardization practices in place for encapsulation, improperly capsulated placentas place risk to mother and baby, and there may not be a link for increased milk supply .
Improperly capsulated placentas can harbor dangerous bacteria that can make you and your baby sick, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) they would advise against it.
If there is no standardization for heating or preparing the placenta or for adequate temperatures to be reached, then it is possible for bacteria or viruses to not be suitably killed during the steaming process as the placenta is a raw, blood-filled organ that is not sterile.
While some say there is a benefit of increased milk supply, with no true evidence to back this up, the opposite could also be true. Especially because the placenta contains the pregnancy hormone estrogen, which is the opposite to the milk producing hormone, prolactin.
See another article on our website regarding hormones and libido to understand more of this inverted relationship.
What Are the Benefits?
Supporters of the practice have said that placentophagy, and especially encapsulation has led to prevention of anemia postpartum, lower chances of postpartum depression and even a booster in milk supply. All of which are very ideal for postpartum mothers!
One of the biggest ideals lies in prevention. To avoid the effects of the baby blues and potentially ease other postpartum mood disorders, is a big deal to most of us new mothers. Especially if you have struggled with such things as postpartum depression and anxiety in the past. To find a more natural and organic way than the antidepressant route is very assuring, and if possible to avoid it entirely may be worth it.
For me, I was constantly trying to find ways to increase milk supply, and yet, the stress of sleep regression and other things outside of my control led to my supply being almost negligible and eventually, depleted. Many mothers, aside from myself, worry about their milk supply and if they will make enough to feed their new baby. Placenta Encapsulation is said to increase your milk supply, so many mothers make that choice to support their breastfeeding experience.
(If you are needing any tips on creating fattier breast milk check out our article)
Because the placenta is a blood rich organ, and because child-birth is such a traumatic event on your body, you can gain benefits from consuming more iron. In addition to iron, there are other vitamins and minerals contained in the placenta that can help you in those early weeks after birth.
Those that support placenta encapsulation tout the benefits of improved mood and increased energy, and a boost in milk supply due to the added micronutrients and iron content in the placenta. For those like myself, suffering from a lack of sleep and energy, from caring for a newborn this could be well worth a try. I know I definitely would have considered anything to help with my fatigue!
These benefits greatly appeal to many of us who are in the throes of sleepless nights and endless worry. So it isn’t any wonder that if there’s a possible chance to have a more positive experience around some of those hard times, we would want to take it!
Some Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does Placenta Encapsulation cost?
Prices do vary: you could pay anywhere from $125-$425 to have a company, doula, or midwife encapsulate your placenta for you.
Not to mention if you try to DIY it, you will then need to come up with the cost of equipment, if you do not already own them (i.e. dehydrator, capsules, and capsule machine to name a few).
Are there any situations where it is unsafe to consume your placenta?
If your placenta is sent to pathology
If you had a uterine infection, or signs of infection during labor, including fever
If the placenta is improperly stored post birth or not refrigerated within a few hours
If the mother smoked during pregnancy
If you had to take a prescription drug during your pregnancy (you would need to consult a professional on this to see what levels there may be in the placenta, if it would be safe to consume)
If you have a blood borne virus such as Hepatitis B or C; or HIV
Are there any side effects from taking the capsule?
Some common side effects include: digestive upset (can be solved by eating with a meal), overproduction of breast milk, and mild headaches.
Uncommon side effects: Increased cramping, decreased breast milk supply, and rashes
How do I know the placenta is mine and not someone else’s?
Most third parties that I have researched take the time to process only one placenta at a time to ensure that this does not happen. And if you have your own midwife or doula, most will actually do it in your home for you, ensuring there is no mixup possible.
Should you or should you not encapsulate your placenta, it’s really up to you. Knowing that there is no research to support it or against it, means you need to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. It could increase milk supply, decrease fatigue, and help with postpartum depression or other postpartum mood disorders, but it could also expose you and your baby to disease and infection if not done properly.
The postpartum period can be a difficult time, and we need all the help we can get as new moms. With so little known about placenta encapsulation, and the potential risks involved with no standardization of preparation, it is best to weigh all options after extensive research and decide for yourself, if this is right for you and your baby.
Niki Cowan has a background in Medicine and Public Health. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist as well as a Medical Assistant. She’s passionate about Women’s Health and empowering women in their journeys. She is married to her wonderful husband Kevin, and they have an active son. While trying to have another little one hasn’t worked out yet, she is pursuing her passions and hoping to gain further education and experience in the area she loves, while playing with her son. She’s an avid reader, Original Great British Baking Show watcher, and very amateur kickboxer.