Congratulations, you're having a baby! If you're anything like me, you've just realized you have x amount of months to do a bunch of research, and make a ton of decisions. Where are you having your baby? Which doctor or midwife will you use? Will you delay the bath? What about delayed cord clamping? The possibilities and choices seem endless and overwhelming. One of the hottest trends right now is encapsulating the placenta after the baby is born. But there are a lot - and I do mean A LOT - of questions surrounding this topic, as well as a lot of objections. Trust me, when I first heard about it, I was pretty skeptical, as well, but it's actually pretty awesome... So let's discuss this up and coming movement and I'll answer a few of the common questions and objections that pop up surrounding this topic.
First - what is it?
What does it mean to encapsulate the placenta? Basically, you take this awesome organ that your body grew for about ten months, and you dehydrate it to be put in capsules. There are a few different methods on accomplishing this, one of which includes rinsing and steaming the placenta, often times (but not always) with lemon, a hot pepper (think jalapenos), and ginger (Traditional Method, or TM), and one that simply includes rinsing the placenta off and slicing it thin for the dehydrator (the Raw Start method). After it's been fully dehydrated, it's ground up and put in capsules for consumption. Cool, right?
I thought so. But let’s start with common ailments found during the postpartum period, and their causes.
The biggest complaint I hear (and remember having myself) was absolute exhaustion. The fatigue was almost immediate and only seemed to intensify as I learned how to parent a new baby without an instruction manual, and balance it with the life that existed before she was born. Article ‘Postpartum Fatigue and Evidence-Based Interventions’ states, “Postpartum fatigue is a debilitating condition that may have an impact on a new mother’s ability to care for her child. It also may delay a woman’s return to functional status in the areas of household, social, employment, and self-care responsibilities and increase her risk of postpartum depression.” The article goes on to discuss the three common causes of fatigue as anemia, infection/inflammation, and thyroid dysfunction. (Corwin and Arbour, 2007)
Within that article is the next biggest concern - anemia. Iron deficiency in postpartum mothers, even marginally low and not anemic, causes a whole slew of problems, such as cognitive deficiencies, lower moods, and impaired physical work capacity. Low iron also increases the mother’s susceptibility to infection, as well as elevating the risk of developing a postpartum depressive disorder. (Bodnar, et al., 2004)
In addition to the above listed postpartum issues, we also see the “baby blues”, speculated to be caused by the loss of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which helps the body to produce cortisol and aid in the reduction of stress (Discover/Gale Group, 1995), postpartum depression, and a concern about milk production.
But why would you encapsulate your placenta, you ask? What benefits are involved for you?
Many women report a boost in energy, increased milk production, and a decrease in postpartum blues when taking their placenta capsules. When asked why, mothers and midwives reported their reasoning as "the belief that eating one's placenta, or 'placentophagy' yields benefits to a mother's physical and mental postnatal health". (Beacock, 2012)
“I thought animals were the only ones that consumed their placentas, and only to hide from predators.”
It’s true that most mammalian species consume their placentas after giving birth (with a few exceptions - aquatic creatures and marsupials do not), including primates. However, in an article written by Mark B. Kristal, “Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma”, he rejects this hypothesis on the grounds that, “Mothers of relatively unchallenged predatory species eat the afterbirth.” There are other reasons given, but essentially, a mother will consume her placenta regardless of whether or not she’s in immediate danger, and it has even been suggested that the eating of the placenta and amniotic fluids can encourage bonding of the mother and her young. (Kristal, “Enhancement of…”)
“Are there risks to encapsulating?”
With a lack of research to back up either stance, each individual must choose if the proposed benefits of encapsulation outweigh any potential risks. That said, it has been reported by some mothers that they have experienced dizziness and headaches while taking their placenta capsules, in which case they should be discontinued immediately or decreased to the lowest dosage. The reason behind this is unknown, but there has been speculation that some placentas carry more hormones than others, or that the mother simply does not need as high a dose as another may.
Other potential hazards would come from improper storage techniques, or anyone other than the mother consuming the capsules, as there is a risk of passing on illnesses of the blood-borne variety.
“Is it safe if I have used pain medications during my delivery, or if I have had a cesarean?”
Yes! There’s no contraindications to consuming your placenta after the use of medications at this time. The only concern for a mother that has had a cesarean birth (or really, any birth) is to ensure their entire placenta does not go to pathology. In the case that it does go to pathology, encapsulation is not recommended as they tend to preserve the organ with formaldehyde, rendering it unable to be processed. If they do want to take your placenta to pathology, request that only a piece be taken to be observed.
On another positive note, the placenta has been found to carry a substance called placental opioid-enhancing factor (POEF) that “potentiates the antinociceptive action of opioids”. (“Participation of Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor in…”) In other words, if you’re taking any opioids postnatally to aid in pain, consuming your placenta alongside them may elevate your ability to tolerate pain. Pretty neat, right?
“What if my baby passed meconium? Can I still encapsulate my placenta?”
Yes, you can. Before we begin steaming the placenta, it is thoroughly rinsed of any meconium or blood that would remain on the exterior.
“Would depression during the prenatal period alter the positive effects encapsulation can have?”
At this point, there have been no known reports of women having a negative reaction to their pills after having prenatal depression. That said, placenta encapsulation is not a cure all and cannot be substituted for medical support if it is needed. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please contact your care provider and ask for help.
“Doesn’t the heat from steaming and dehydrating it take away the nutrients we’re trying to replenish?”
Short answer - no, not at all. In one study, it was suggested that “the amount of nutrients particularly protein and minerals in heat-dried human placenta were enriched”. (Phuapradit, et al., 2000) Pretty neat, right?
“I bet it tastes pretty gross, doesn’t it?”
Normally, you shouldn’t taste anything because the placenta is contained inside of capsules. When we encapsulate your placenta, we make sure to wipe off the capsules before we put them in your jar to ensure residual powder doesn’t remain on the outside of your pills. If you do have an aftertaste when taking your pills, try taking them with a meal or snack.
“How can you ensure that the process is hygienic, and how do I know that it’s my placenta I’m consuming?”
I can’t speak for all encapsulators, but at Mountain State Maternity, your placenta will never leave your possession. While you should absolutely trust any encapsulator you hire, we prefer to take out the guess work - it will stay with you, and you’re free to be as involved in the process (or not) as you’d like. As for ensuring hygiene, we are very diligent about ensuring the safety of our clients by utilizing protective gear, and high standards of sanitation for both our tools and our clients’ homes.
“Is this backed by scientific research?”
Unfortunately, most of the studies surrounding placentophagia and the benefits human mothers receive from consuming their placentas are outdated, subjective, and in need of a broader scope of study. More detailed questions need to be asked and studied so that we can understand the medicinal qualities the placenta has for placentophagy. At this time, the most potent research we have are anecdotal stories from women that have encapsulated their placentas and reported positive (and sometimes negative) results.
“Are there any conditions that would render my placenta unable to be encapsulated? What if I’m Group B-Strep (GBS) positive?”
Being positive for strep-B simply means that you’re a carrier for the bacteria that causes group-b strep. This alone doesn’t cause your placenta to be unusable as the bacteria is killed during steaming and dehydration, however a fever during labor could indicate infection. If you have a uterine infection, we cannot encapsulate your placenta. Other conditions that render your placenta unable to be encapsulated include any strains of hepatitis (A, B, and C) or HIV, for your safety, for our own, and for that of both our families.
“But I’m a Vegan/Vegetarian.”
That’s alright! It isn’t the same, but many herbivores consume their placentas after having babies. We also use vegan/vegetarian friendly capsules when preparing your final product instead of using gelatin capsules made with animal product.
If you’re interested in learning more, or you’re ready to book your encapsulation, click here to get in contact with us today!
Further Reading//Works Cited:
“Nutrients and hormones in heat-dried human placenta.” (Phuapradit W., et al.)
“Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma” (Mark B. Kristal)
“Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits?” (Michelle Beacock)
“Postpartum Fatigue and Evidence-Based Interventions” (Elizabeth J. Corwin and Meghan Arbour)
“Have we forgotten the significance of postpartum iron deficiency?” (Lisa M. Bodnar, Mary E. Cogswell, Thad McDonald)