Mothers around the world are raving about placenta encapsulation (aka placenta pills).
“I had it done for my 4th [birth]. Best thing ever. Great milk supply. Less stress. More energy. Best thing I have done to aid in post birth recovery. Look into it especially if you suffer from post natal depression.” — Claire
But when speaking to others, if you happen to mention eating a placenta (or ‘placentophagy’ as it’s scientifically known), you’ll usually have their stomach churning.
Being the open-minded person that I am, I decided to take a closer look at what seems to be an increasingly growing trend.
The history of placenta encapsulation
Placentophagy is often joked about, even labeled as cannibalism by some people, particularly in western cultures.
I’d bet those who joke about it don’t even realise that placentas have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) since the 1500s, which is longer than modern medicine has existed.
Placenta consumption has continued due to the belief of an abundance of great properties, which may make a huge difference to a new mother’s mental health, recovery and well being.
Cultures who find it customary to prepare the placenta for the mother (or are known to consume part or all of the placenta) include the Chinese, Vietnamese, Hungarians and Italians.
These cultures believe the placenta to be rich in nutrients, which will greatly assist the mother to recover from childbirth. This includes slowing and stopping haemorrhage during childbirth and helping with milk supply.
Placenta encapsulation benefits
Below are the commonly stated benefits of placenta encapsulation:
- 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
In a recent article about the booming business of placenta pills in the Courier Mail, Sunnybank Private Hospital maternity services chair, Doctor Stephen Elgey, said the argument that placenta ingestion could elevate a new mother’s irons levels “made sense”. He was also quoted as saying, “The evidence of the benefits is lacking, however there’s also no evidence of harm.”
We desperately need human research and studies on placenta consumption, especially since so many women find similar outcomes after birth. Going by mother’s claims, who knows, perhaps it could reduce the amount of women who suffer from mood disorders postnatally. This would be a great achievement.
Up to 80% of women experience the baby blues within the first week of birth. Women who consume their placenta report fewer emotional issues and a more enjoyable babymoon. Who wouldn’t want that?!
Mothers experiences with placenta encapsulation
Kathryn, mother of two with one on the way, explains that she decided to try placenta encapsulation after hearing about the emotional benefits, given she had a history of severe depression.
“I had a really traumatic birth with my son, and suffered from severe post natal depression and post traumatic stress disorder. I even tried taking my own life. I hated the medications the doctors gave me, as they left me sleepy, with mood swings or feeling high, so I started looking into natural ways to help myself, along side birth trauma sessions.”
Emma, mother to a three month old baby, wasn’t sure how she found out about placenta encapsulation, and wasn’t warm to the idea at first either.
“I was aware of consuming the placenta prior to my pregnancy, but I think I read about making capsules out of it somewhere early in my pregnancy. I’m a uni student doing a degree in naturopathy, so I did a lot of research early on about how to make my pregnancy and birth as natural as possible. I think my original reaction was, ‘ew, I’m NOT doing that!’ But my doula had a chat with me a few times about it and I ended up curious, and in the end I did it.”
What’s the process to make placenta pills?
Once you have organised someone to provide the encapsulation services for you, they will want to collect the placenta within 48 hours of the birth. This is for a few reasons.
Firstly, this is for health and safety reasons. But just as importantly, because you are likely to feel at your lowest on day four or five, it’s ideal to have your encapsulated placenta pills back as soon as possible, to help you through.
Ideally your placenta has been refrigerated soon after the birth – some service providers will not encapsulate the placenta if it’s been out for too long.
Another reason some encapsulators may not be prepared to encapsulate your placenta is if the placenta has been birthed in water. They believe it may result in an increased chance of contamination, from matter in the water. However, many encapsulators do not have a problem with waterbirthed placentas, as they thoroughly clean the placenta, and have not had any problems doing so.
The placenta will take around a day to prepare and dehydrate (if you have frozen your placenta, you need to add an extra day). Firstly, it’s washed well, and any clots and blood are removed.
Depending on the method they use, some placenta encapsulators then steam the placenta (with or without herbs), and others just go straight to the next step of dehydrating the placenta. Following this, the placenta is then ground down into powder form and placed into capsules – so it ends up looking like any other herbs you might take in capsule form.
Following this, the placenta is then ground down into powder form and placed into capsules – so it ends up looking like any other herbs you might take in capsule form.
You can begin taking the capsules as soon as you receive them, storing them in a dark cupboard at room temperature in most climates. Some prefer to put them in the fridge, but take care not to get them wet or they will dissolve. If you live in a tropical or humid climate, the freezer will be the best place to prevent mould.
You can expect to receive around 100-200 capsules, which can be frozen for storage if you want to use them for balancing hormones at another time.
Placenta encapsulators have varying schedules – some are also midwives, doulas, natural health practitioners etc, so check with them to be certain on how long it will take once they have your placenta. Some encapsulators offer an in-home service as well as out of home.
“My placenta was taken from the hospital after our VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) by our doula, she than steamed it, dehydrated it, crushed it into a fine powder and capped it into vegan veggie caps ready to consume.” — Kathryn
What does placenta taste like?
If you’re having your placenta encapsulated, the dried out placenta is like taking any other herb, fully enclosed in a capsule. Mothers report no taste or aftertaste this way. If you choose to consume the placenta any other way, it would be a different story altogether!
“It had no taste for me, might be different if not encapsulated. No aftertaste. I swallowed mine with a glass of red wine as per the instructions I found on the internet!” — Rebecca
Personally, I have found them to have a similar (but milder) taste to iron supplements, but it’s not anywhere near as bad as taking liquid iron!
Is placenta encapsulation clean and safe?
Naturally, a concern for some women would be the safety and cleanliness of the encapsulation process. It’s important you discuss any concerns with the person who prepares your placenta, so you are aware of how they do it. It may help relieve any anxiety or stress about taking them.
After the birth, placentas are washed and clots are removed, which also removes any maternal blood.
Most placentas prepared off-site are done one at a time, to prevent mix-ups. Placenta encapsulation isn’t quite the high demand, fast moving service, so it’s unlikely that your provider will be working on others while preparing yours. None the less, you could always ask the placenta encapsulator if they can do it in your home — even with your own utensils — if you are particularly concerned.
Surgical grade steel is usually used, gloves, and hospital grade disinfectant.
Philippa, a doula from Queensland, helped to reassure a mother with GBS (group B strep) who was concerned about her placenta capsules being affected.
“We had a capsule tested at the local hospital pathology lab here in Townsville – a friendly midwife asked the lab to test it. The results came back saying that the capsule was one of the cleanest things she has ever seen.”
Also, see our article, Is Placenta Encapsulation Safe For GBS Positive Mothers?
How much does placenta encapsulation cost?
The cost of placenta encapsulation varies between service providers, and some provide a cheaper service if you’re already a client (e.g. if you’ve hired them as your doula). At the time of writing this article, most services had prices around $200-$400 depending on what was included. It would be much cheaper if you chose to do it yourself.
Rebecca says, “It cost us about $30 for the encapsulating machine with capsules off eBay. Would have been nothing if I wanted to swallow small frozen raw pieces or made into a smoothie!”
“It cost me nothing because I did it myself. I have a food dehydrator and the capsule maker so I didn’t see the point in paying someone else to do it. My doula does offer it as a service but I never asked how much she charges for it,” says Emma
Right after you’ve had a baby, it can be handy to have someone experienced come in and take care of the placenta for you while you focus on your new baby. No mess, no fuss.
If you don’t have all the right utensils, it may end up being more trouble doing it yourself – you could even end up with smelly or stained utensils which you may never want to use again! But if money is a huge factor for you, you can research and look into ways of doing it yourself.
What research or evidence exists on placentophagy?
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 that 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 if you aren’t deficient already), the placenta can provide these needs.
It may help avoid iron deficiency by providing it in an easily absorbed form, as well as avoid the side effects. Iron deficiency can leave you feeling depressed and with a low mood.
Despite the lack of human studies, women who’ve had their placenta encapsulated swear by it and recommend it to others.
When asked if she’d recommend placenta encapsulation to others, Emma said, “Definitely. We put so much energy and so many of our vitamins and minerals and even hormones into growing these little angels that I think it’s important to put as much back in as we can. It’s something that’s been practiced for hundreds even thousands of years, to me nature knows best and doing what we’re designed to do is important. As a naturopath I’m hoping to work with pregnancy, birth and beyond so it’s something I will definitely recommend to my clients and may even offer it as a service.”
Placenta pills in the media
Of late, even celebrities have been getting into the placenta pills action.
Hollywood actress January Jones raved about placenta encapsulation, when talking to the media.
In addition, Kim Kardashian announced on her show that she’d be eating her baby’s placenta.
What’s my personal opinion about placenta encapsulation?
After writing this article, I gave birth my third baby after a very big gap. I had no idea about placenta encapsulation with my first two children.
After taking encapsulated placenta, my own personal opinion is: DO IT!
After struggling with iron levels for as many years as I can remember, my ferritin level (an important measure of iron – ask what your ferritin level is if getting your iron tested) has been below 10, before and after having children. Despite taking supplements it would keep dropping down due to having
Despite taking supplements, my ferritin levels kept dropping down, due to having heavy periods after giving birth.
But for the first time I could remember, my ferritin level was at an incredible 50, ten months after giving birth to my third child.
Placenta encapsulation is the only difference I can put it down to.
My partner couldn’t believe how well I was coping with sleep deprivation. While I did feel somewhat tired, it wasn’t the blinding tiredness I had with my other two – and I am much older this time around! I cannot recommend placenta encapsulation highly enough.
Some of the biggest risk factors for postnatal depression and anxiety are a lack of sleep, exhaustion and a lack of support.
Low iron can result in feeling depressed and exhausted – imagine how much harder motherhood would be with low iron, and the exhaustion that comes with it? Could the placenta be nature’s anti-depressant?
More research is definitely warranted, and some is on the way. However, my experience, as well as everyone else’s, is more than enough for me to be convinced that our fellow mammals are right on the money consuming their placentas. Even if you’re not convinced, when you’re stuck in the fog of postnatal depression or exhaustion, you’d do anything to get out of it.
There may be a chance to potentially avoid it in the first place.
More mothers’ feedback about placenta pills
“I didn’t get the day 3 blues, which usually has me in a blubbering mess. My post-partum bleed was less, too. I had my mum here staying with me, so that may have helped, but I felt happier in myself, and my milk came in quicker. Overall, the first 2 weeks after my baby was born just seemed to sail by, and my hubby had no time off work this time around either. So I was here living far from town with five children, and I coped better than when I had my second!” — Rebecca
“The placenta pills helped me greatly. It lowered my depression, it boosted my iron levels, boosted my milk supply and lowered my post birth bleed. I use it while I have my periods too, it helps to control my bleeding and mood swings, and helps me boost my vitamin intake. It’s currently helping me to support my current pregnancy – no need for vitamins here.” — Kathryn
“I healed quite quickly, and felt like I bounced back from the birth quickly as well. Haemorrhage is something that runs through the family — mum and my grandmother both had that problem, but I didn’t, and that could possibly be due to the placenta. It was hard to take the first few tablets, just the thought of what I was taking put me off for a moment. But in the end, I was quite sad when I took my last few.” — Emma
Spreading the word about placenta pills
Mothers who take placenta pills feel more information needs to be available, so pregnant women can reap the benefits of placenta encapsulation.
Kathryn says, “My view on it is if people were more educated about placenta encapsulation they may be more willing to try it. Western women have not been exposed to what other women from other countries do, post birth. Placenta pills have been done in eastern countries for many centuries.”
Emma shares the same sentiment. “I totally understand people being completely freaked out about it, it’s not exactly something that society openly talks about. Everyone is a bit sensitive to anything outside the ‘norm’, so they don’t try and understand or learn about the reasons people do things. To them, the thought of chugging down something that’s been inside you is too much to bear! I’ve had enough strange reactions to the fact I didn’t want drugs in my labour, that I used my own cord-ties and so on. So for me, I’m used to weird reactions, and it didn’t bother me at all.”
So, instead of, “Why on earth would you eat a placenta?!”, an increasing number of mothers are posing another question… “Why on earth not?!”