What’s The Deal with Placenta Encapsulation?

Written by: Gina Crosley-Corcoran, CCCE

© TheFeministBreeder.com

Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe anything involving the word “placenta” causes you to dry heave. Contrary to how it sounds, placenta encapsulation does not involve enshrining your organ for later sacrificial rituals. In fact, it’s nothing like that at all.

Placenta encapsulation is a process in which, immediately following the birth of your baby, your placenta is dehydrated and ground into a course powder, which is then placed into small capsules that look exactly just like any other vitamin or supplement we might take. Mothers then consume these capsules to help them rebound from the birth, avoid postpartum blues, and boost their milk supply.

Being as skeptical and squeamish as I usually am, I was probably the last person I ever thought would try this unorthodox idea. But after researching the benefits, and knowing that I need all the help I can get postpartum, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try. Fortunately for me, it was an investment that paid off. My postpartum healing after taking my placenta pills was 100% smoother and easier than with my previous two births. Anecdotes are not evidence, but for me, I felt that it worked.

WHY would a mother want to consume her placenta in this manner?

The placenta contains a massive amount of crucial hormones and iron that leave our body once the placenta is born. Humans (at least in the Western world) are one of the few land mammals that do not regularly eat their placentas – a practice known as placentophagia. But consuming the placenta in any form 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 these new moms.

How does placentophagia assist postpartum healing?

The placenta contains at least a half dozen hormones and other natural substances that help the body to recover from birth. Some boost immunity in the new mom, some help lower stress levels, and others encourage the uterus to shrink back to size, which can help prevent excessive postpartum bleeding.

How can placentophagia boost milk supply?

One study showed a very positive increase in milk production for moms consuming dehydrated placenta, probably because it contains Oxytocin, which is responsible for the milk ejection reflex, or “let down.”

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.

How do I get my placenta encapsulated?

While some mothers may choose to dehydrate and encapsulate their own placentas, many more are hiring out the work to a placenta encapsulation professional. 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 bloodborne pathogens. Most often, the placenta professional in your area is probably a doula, midwife, or other birth pro who works closely with birthing mothers.

Generally your placenta professional will retrieve your placenta from your birth place, and process it in their workspace on special equipment reserved for placentas only. In other cases, the placenta professional may process the placenta in your own home, however some new mothers may not appreciate this because the processing can be quite odorous. Before hiring a placenta professional, ask them where they process placentas, and choose the method that you prefer. The placenta pills are then usually returned to the mother within 48 hours and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

What are the methods to encapsulation?

There are two main methods or recipes for encapsulation, and before hiring a professional, 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.

For more information on the benefits of Placenta Encapsulation, check out PlacentaBenefits.info or the Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network.

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Gina Crosley-Corcoran, CCCE

Gina is the chief editor and author of TheFeministBreeder.com and The Feminist Breeder Resource Guide. She is a doula, certified childbirth educator, advocate, activist for women's and children's health, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Loyola University Chicago with a Bachelors in Business and Organizational Leadership. She is currently working on a Master of Public Health in Maternal Child Health and The University of Illinois Chicago. At home, she's a mother of two boys and a baby girl, and wife to a bilingual middle school teacher who laughs at all her jokes.

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29 Responses to “What’s The Deal with Placenta Encapsulation?”

  1. Alethea says:

    As a Certified Lactation Counselor I learned that retained placental fragments can inhibit milk production because is it still producing progesterone which inhibits mature milk formation, Those moms would only be producing colostrum not mature milk. I’m having a hard time reconciling this information with the claim that consuming the placenta and therefore the hormones contained within would boost milk production. Any thoughts on this? Another question I have is why aren’t the hormones actually destroyed in the cooking process? I have actually seen a placenta be processed and couldn’t imagine how anything beneficial would be left afterward. Thanks!

    • TheFeministBreeder says:

      @Alethea In the RAW method, the placenta is not cooked. In the Chinese method, it is cooked, and some nutrients are lost, but most are retained.Retained placenta in the uterus has a very different reaction on the body than ingesting placenta. It’s not the hormones themselves left in the uterus that cause milk production problems.

      • moyell says:

        @TheFeministBreeder What causes the body to make progesterone is the corpus luteum– the follicle that originally released the egg that got fertilized. Usually the corpus luteum dies after an unfertilized egg does not implant itself– that’s when we get our periods. When an egg IS fertilized and implants, and the fetus starts releasing HCG, that triggers the corpus luteum to stay alive and to continue producing progesterone. As long as part of the placenta is attached, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone. The placenta itself does not produce progesterone or contain it in some large quantity. Once the placental fragment is removed, the corpus luteum dies and there is no further source of progesterone in the body– at least not until the cycle starts all over and the woman ovulates again. At this point eating the placenta is not different than say, eating a big liver or something. You aren’t really eating progesterone.

        Sorry, Gina, for some reason I couldn’t figure out how to reply to BOTH you and Althea. This is really more to respond to Althea’s comment.

        • moyell says:

          @TheFeministBreeder Woops, I also forgot to say that progesterone is the thing that keeps your body from making mature milk until the baby comes. When the progesterone suddenly drops after the placenta is delivered, that’s what causes the wheels to be set in motion for the mature milk to come in.

        • TheFeministBreeder says:

          @moyell THANK YOU! I appreciate you listing the exact science behind it. Sometimes I just don’t have the time or energy for lengthy responses.

        • LucinaDoula says:

          @moyell  @TheFeministBreeder I know this is an older thread, but a client sent it to me recently for my thoughts.  I have a question about the comment above – I understood that the placenta takes over progesterone production early in pregnancy.
          http://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/progesterone.aspx
          http://www.courseweb.uottawa.ca/medicine-histology/english/Reproduction/Placenta/Default.htm
           
          However, progesterone in the placenta does not appear to pose problems for milk supply when ingested after birth – in fact, support for milk production is one of the few aspects that has been looked at by doctors over the years (the earliest report I’ve found is from 1917).  My understanding is limited as I’m not an endocrinologist, but I gather that part of the reason is that natural progesterone does not survive the GI tract.  When women are given natural progesterone supplements they’re in the form of a patch or cream for this reason.  
           
          Moyell sounds like an educated contributor, so I wanted to check in and see if there’s something I’m missing!

    • LeanneKemmlerPalmerston says:

      @Alethea There was a study done quite some time ago that showed a quantifiable change in breastmilk production before and after taking placenta capsules.

      Excerpted from PBI’s website:

      Placenta as Lactagagon Soykova-Pachnerova E, et. al.(1954). Gynaecologia 138(6):617-627.

      An attempt was made to increase milk secretion in mothers by administration of dried placenta per os. Of 210 controlled cases only 29 (13.8%) gave negative results; 181 women (86.2%) reacted positively to the treatment, 117 (55.7%) with good and 64 (30.5%) with very good results. It could be shown by similar experiments with a beef preparation that the effective substance in placenta is not protein. Nor does the lyofilised placenta act as a biogenic stimulator so that the good results of placenta administration cannot be explained as a form of tissue therapy per os. The question of a hormonal influence remains open. So far it could be shown that progesterone is probably not active in increasing lactation after administration of dried placenta.

      This method of treating hypogalactia seems worth noting since the placenta preparation is easily obtained, has not so far been utilized and in our experience is successful in the majority of women.

  2. CaseyCecile says:

    I had planned on encapsulation but after I had the placenta in the blender I opted to make a smoothie.

    As my husband watched and gagged nearby I chugged a large placenta smoothie and had AMAZING results!!!!! I had a touch of pp blues, low milk supply and healing issues with the birth of my first child. When I consummed the placenta smoothie after the birth of my second child I had an aboundance of milk (enough to sustain my child to 20lbs in 4m and donate the rest,) no blues whatsoever, and a lochia that literally stopped at day 3.

    I am now awaiting the birth of my third child and I cannot wait to do a placenta smoothie again for the benefits!

  3. I did this for my second birth, a VBAC, and it was clean, and the little capsules were just like any other herbal supplement. AND it made a huge difference for me. It was remarkable. I just felt more calm and strong. I had plenty of milk, and it just felt nourishing. Could it have been the placebo effect? Sure. But I know that my acupuncturist gave me cow placenta for the first birth, so for the second, I figured I’d rather use my own than some cow’s. It certainly didn’t do any harm.

    As far as milk production goes, I used it when I went back to work or whenever I had a dip in supply and it seemed to work just as well as fenugreek or mother’s milk supplements.

  4. We are expecting our first baby in June and will have our placenta encapsulated. We’re choosing the TCM method because I think there’s a lot of wisdom in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the ‘warming’ effect of the placenta prepared in this manner is better for my constitution and postpartum healing. Thanks for the post, going to share it on my FB page :-)

  5. e22blue says:

    Gina have you come across peer-reviewed data on this? I’m active enough in “natural parenting” circles that I’ve heard a lot of support for this, but most of what I’ve heard or read is anecdotal or indirect data like your references to iron-deficiency, but nothing peer-reviewed on placenta consumption itself. I find myself gravitating more and more towards AP/natural parenting types of things, but I’m a bit of an academic nerd and I’m much more influenced by articles on Pubmed than stories. (I’m the boring mom on our local AP forum!) I’m due next month, so this is a timely topic for me, but I’m not sure I can put energy into doing something that is really unappealing (consuming raw) or expensive (encapsulated) for anecdotal reasons.

    • TheFeministBreeder says:

      @e22blue Until someone invests the money in the research, I’m afraid all we can do is look at secondary data and correlation. Like most things that won’t make pharmaceuticals companies any money, there is little incentive to spend research dollars on consuming one’s own placenta. The studies I’ve seen are convincing enough to me to believe it’s worth trying, and I’m a skeptical academic nerd as well.

  6. AmandaEnglund says:

    In response to e22blue: There has been research done at the University of Arizona (Jodi Selander of Placenta Benefits is the one who got this going) and the final results are going to be published soon!  As a placenta encapsulation lady, I am really excited to know what the results of the tests will be. 

  7. [...] working on a podcast about placenta encapsulation to run next week on the podcast. Just like birth photography, it’s kind of hot right now in [...]

  8. [...] on in crunchy birth circles. My friend Gina, a.k.a. The Feminist Breeder, makes her case for it in “What’s the Deal with Placenta Encapsulation?” Although most of the benefits are anecdotal at this point, as more moms talk about it, it’s [...]

  9. hse says:

    To do that you need to Locate a Placenta Encapsulation specialist in your area, who can prepare your placenta into easy-to-take, dehydrated capsules.

  10. ClaireMoore says:

    i remember being so starving after giving birth, if i had been giving birth alone out in the woods i may well have scarfed down a raw placenta LMAO it does make sense that animals do this, im sure there are benefits. me and DH were entitled to two breakfasts while we stayed at the hospital and i ate both of them. he could go find his own food.

  11. MavGonzalez says:

    WOW! I am not currently pg but I find this totally amazing! I think my grandmother said something about eating her placenta when she had one of her 8 babies and had dried up due to a sudden death in the family. I wonder if she did it with all of her babies. I thought it was weird when she said “what a waste” in regards to disposing of my placenta after I delivered my baby. Now it makes sense.

  12. JoanLandWhitman says:

    After much in-depth searching for facts and studies to substantiate or debunk the practice of Placentaphogia, it became very clear it is being misrepresented as a safe, normal practice. We would be remiss to not mention the complete lack of data and research to back these claims. In this case, the facts are clear: not nearly enough research has been conducted and other than testimonials no evidence says this is an adequate way to support your postpartum needs. I believe with some many safe and wonderful herbs, real food available to us, why take a chance on a method that could be potentially harmful. Of course, it is up to each woman to make her own decision, now with an alternate view point available she has the information to do so. An In-Depth Look at the Safety of Eating Placenta Infographic for more information: http://guide.thesoftlanding.com/an-in-depth-look-at-the-safety-of-eating-placenta-infographic/

  13. ActivistMommy says:

    I’ve heard the praises of placentophagy coming from lots of women in the “natural” world, but I have to say, my first gut reaction to it was, “THIS IS NOT SAFE!” But because I kept hearing people talk about it, I decided to put my initial feelings aside and check it out. So after doing lots of research, and realizing that most of the information on the safety of placenta eating is just plain missing, I have to side with the group that calls this practice out as one that should be avoided at all costs. In fact, I read that consuming any type of human DNA causes alterations within your own, even mutations, that can in turn cause a host of problems. Many of these problems caused by the consumption of human DNA are neurological, and knowing that the paths of many neurological disorders are developed over time, I believe those that eat placenta may be unwittingly putting themselves at severe risk of developing brain disorders that become more apparent with the increase in age. I predict that we’ll likely see a marked increase in cases of elderly brain disorders like Alzheimers and dementia throughout our generation of women as we age, due to the current trend of placetophagy. Definitely not a risk worth taking, especially in light of the many other options out there to treat mothers’ postpartum concerns.

    • c p1 says:

      @ActivistMommy
      Please post any links or direct me to any info on which you are basing your comment.  I have been unable to follow up on your views on placentophagy.  Do you really believe that consuming one placenta over the course of many months is going to cause an increase in brain disorders 30+ years down the road?  I would appreciate more clarification from you as I am about to give birth and your post has now given me a reason to doubt my feeling that “it cant hurt and may help so why not?”
       
      thanks

    • anthrogenet says:

      @ActivistMommy I am an anthropological geneticist. What you likely read about was the consumption of human brains that have a horizontally transmissible prion disease. These horizontally transmissible prion conditions are referred to as spongiform encephalopathies. They occur when the proteins in the brain misfold and cause degenerative neurological diseases. Some famous ones include Creutzfeldt-Jakob and fatal familial insomnia, both of which are caused by mutations and not by consumption of body parts. The spongiform encephalopathy famous for acquisition via consumption of brain matter is called Kuru. There is a nice wikipedia article on it that I have helped to edit. Prion diseases are what I specialize in.
       
      Your research into the topic of consumption of human genetic material is admirable, but the information you found is simply incorrect. Neurological disorders can be caused by the consumption of infected human brain matter. They are not caused by placentophagy. There is no direct or even secondary evidence to support this.
       
      If you are interested in finding scientific studies about degenerative neurological conditions, prion diseases, spongiform encephalopathies, placentophagy, etc. this website allows open access (you don’t have to be subscribed through a university) to their articles. I use it nearly every day and highly recommend it: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed.
       
      Check out some of these publications: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=human+placentophagy

  14. katydoula says:

    Thank you for this! A lot of good information all in one place! I am linking to this from my website, http://www.sacredrootsservices.com.  I offer Birth and Postpartum Doula Services, as well and Placenta Encapsulation for my clients.  Thank you for all you do!

  15. [...] Placenta encapsulation is a process in which, immediately following the birth of your baby, your placenta is dehydrated and ground into a course powder, which is then placed into small capsules that look exactly just like any other vitamin or supplement we might take. Mothers then consume these capsules to help them rebound from the birth, avoid postpartum blues, and boost their milk supply. [...]

  16. Kristin G. says:

    I wanted to mention and give info that a nearby univeristy medical program near me in Texas is about to start a study! hooray and heres the infor for those interested andin the DFW area.

    “To be eligible for this study you must be 18 years of age and older and have consumed placenta in any form following childbirth, or intend to do so following delivery.

    If you are eligible for this study and choose to participate, we will ask you to attend a group conversation, also called a “focus group” with other women. The focus group will take about 1-2 hours. During this time we will ask you about your experiences. Your participation or non-participation in this study will have no effect on your relationship with or medical care provided by UNT Health or other health care providers and health care systems, or services provided by your midwife.

    Focus groups will take place on the 6th floor (Obstetrics-Gynecology department) of the UNT Patient Care Center, which is located at 855 Montgomery St. Fort Worth Texas

    The date of the focus group will be Saturday, July 20th at 10:00 am.

    If you know anyone else who has participated in this practice, or plans to and might be interested in participating, we would love to speak with them as well. Feel free to forward them this email or give them our contact information.

    For more detailed information about this study or to answer any questions, please contact me or Dr. Amy Raines-Milenkov at 817-735-0109.

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