The placenta is incredible. After studying the physiology of pregnancy, labor, and birth and learning all that the placenta does, I am truly amazed.
“The placenta is the organ that surrounds the fetus in the womb and allows for the exchange of nutrients, blood, and waste with the mother. It is expelled from the uterus after the birth of the child” (American Pregnancy).
The question many pregnant women often wonder is… “What should I do with my placenta once it’s birthed?”
There are many options to choose from. You can do nothing, or you can make a print of your placenta, bury it, plant it, donate it, make jewelry or keepsakes out of it, or you can consume it.
Placentophagy is the practice of ingesting the placenta: either eating it raw, cooked in a stew or stir fry, made into a tincture, or dehydrated and encapsulated into pill form. The later option is what we’ll talk about for the rest of the post.
WHAT IS PLACENTA ENCAPSULATION?
This has been a traditional practice among Chinese for hundreds of years. The placenta is cleaned, steamed, cut up, dehydrated, ground into a powder, and put into capsules that women can swallow during their postpartum period.
ARE THERE BENEFITS?
There is little to no scientific evidence-based research that shows how placenta encapsulation benefits women, but many woman have shared of their incredible experiences of taking these capsules.
“Unfortunately there has been very little human research done into placentophagy. The Placenta Benefits website does have some related research information but no major studies have been done. However it does make sense at a time in your life when your hormones are under a major upheaval and you have lost a great deal of blood (leaving you prone to iron deficiency), that the placenta can provide these needs, to help avoid iron deficiency as well as its side effects (which include depression and low mood.” – BellyBelly.com
According to BellyBelly.com it is believed that consuming the placenta can:
- Help to balance your hormones
- Replenish depleted iron levels
- Assist the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy state
- Reduce post-natal bleeding Increase milk production – this has been proven in a study
- Make for a happier, more enjoyable post-natal period
- Increase your energy levels
The Feminist Breeder also writes,
“How can placentophagia help curb postpartum mood problems? Research published in The Journal of Nutrition shows that postpartum iron-deficiency (anemia) can cause postpartum depression and anxiety, but let’s remember; the placenta contains a huge boost of easily-absorbable iron. Research published in The Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 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. 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.”
ARE THERE RISKS?
There are few risks to placenta encapsulation. Things to consider would be how the placenta encapsulator prepares the capsules (is it in sanitary conditions?), if the mother was on any drugs that could have crossed into the placenta, and how the placenta is handled and stored after its birth.
“Placental encapsulation appears to carry no inherent risk if ingested solely by the mother. Some mothers have reported experiencing negative symptoms such as dizziness or jitteriness after taking the pills. Again, most of the information regarding this practice is amassed from anecdotes, and not from research. In addition, if taken by other family members or friends, one must be aware of the possibility of passing along blood-borne diseases. Also, if the placenta needs to be stored for any period of time, it must be kept refrigerated like any other meat product.” – American Pregnancy
Nancy Redd shares in her article, I Regret Eating My Placenta, that she had to stop taking her capsules as they caused her to feel “jittery and weird” and caused her to have a meltdown.
DO YOU RECOMMEND IT?
As a doula, my job is to provide information so that moms can make informed choices, and then support the mother in the decisions she makes. I am neither for or against placenta encapsulation as I believe it is an individual’s decision, so I won’t judge a woman for choosing to encapsulating her placenta, and I won’t judge a woman for choosing not encapsulate her placenta. I believe it’s all up to each woman to decide if it’s something they are interested in or comfortable with doing.
If my client was seeking to consume her placenta, I may be interested in asking her a few questions such as:
- Why do you want your placenta to be encapsulated?
- Would you say you are fearful of having postpartum depression? Are you concerned that you will develop depression? If so, what kind of support do you have after birth? Have you had mood disorders with previous births?
- Are you afraid you won’t have a sufficient milk supply? Have you talked with a lactation consultant about this?
- Are you doing this because it because your friends are doing it? Do you feel pressured by others?
- Do you believe that consuming your placenta would be a cure-all?
- Have you talked with your caregiver about placenta encapsulation?
In conclusion, there are many things you can do with your placenta! You don’t just have to toss it out after birth.
If you’re interested in having your placenta encapsulated, feel free to contact me as I can provide contact information of many placenta encapsulators (PEs) in the Bay Area.