Placenta encapsulation is the practice of steaming, dehydrating, and then grinding a placenta into ground form. This product is then placed into capsules which can be taken as any other medication or supplement.
It is part of a practice known as “human placentophagy,” which is defined as the post-partum consumption of the placenta by any person. Early versions of this practice involved eating raw placenta with some honey to resolve hemorrhage. Now mothers and families are grinding the organs up into powder to take them like a vitamin or supplement.
The placenta is the organ which supports and surrounds the fetus during a pregnancy. It exchanges nutrients between mother and child through a transfer of blood while processing waste. As part of the birthing process, it expels from the uterus.
Placenta encapsulation is a process which began with ancient Chinese medicine practices. It is a tradition in the U.S. which has gained traction in recent years. Here are the pros and cons to consider if you’re thinking about doing this.
List of the Pros of Placenta Encapsulation
1. Anecdotal evidence does exist for placenta consumption.
A small study of about 200 women was published in the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition regarding their practices of placenta consumption. 95% of the women who took part in the project said that the event was either “very positive” or “positive” for them. 40% of study participants stated that they had improved mood because of their actions, 26% noted improved energy levels, and 15% said they had better breastmilk production.
2. The cost of placenta encapsulation is reasonable.
The whole process of preparing the placenta, then encapsulating it, will cost between $150 to $400 depending on where you live. You can choose other preparation options in a similar price range too. Tree of Life Placenta Services, based in Portland, OR, will bake a lasagna or make a tortilla soup from the organ. The company provides encapsulation services too, steaming the placenta over lemon and ginger before dehydrating it for grinding.
3. You can do the encapsulation work at home.
If you have the equipment available to steam and dehydrate your placenta at home, then there are no known regulations at the time of writing which prevent you from doing so. You’ll need to purchase empty capsules which you can fill with the powder. After steaming the placenta, you’ll want to cut it into thin strips, then dehydrate those pieces until they become like “chips.” Once they are entirely dry, grind them like you would coffee beans. Then fill the capsules with the powder you created.
4. There could be health benefits possible for men and women with this practice.
According to information published by the Safe Birth Project, placenta capsules help to reduce postpartum depression. They boost oxytocin levels. It provides a boost to iron levels in the blood too. Those benefits become possible without risks which are backed by supporting medical evidence. Beyond the reviews and stories offered by mothers, there is little therapeutic benefit backed by supporting evidence either.
5. It is a practice followed by almost all mammals on our planet.
Humans are mammals too. Almost all of them consume the placenta immediately after they give birth. The only real exception to this rule is the aquatic mammal family. Humans don’t go out of their way to eat it raw, though some mothers have given it a try. Some believe mammals consume the placenta to prevent predators from knowing a newborn is near. What we do know is that prostaglandin is present in the placenta, which helps the uterus to return to is “regular” size. Oxytocin is present too, promoting milk ejections.
6. You’re required to cook the placenta to encapsulate it.
If you eat the placenta “fresh,” then you create new opportunities to spread infection. That’s why the steaming process with this organ is a better option. Encapsulation requires you to have the organ reach 70 degrees Celsius while cooking for best results. If you’re concerned about lingering organisms, the correct internal temperature for a placenta is about the same as it is for poultry. A medium-low heat to raise the temperature of the organ, then the heated dehydration process kills dangerous organisms when the procedure is followed carefully.
List of the Cons of Placenta Encapsulation
1. Some mothers should never try to consume their placenta.
If you have a bacterial or viral infection at the time you pass the placenta, then the practice of encapsulation should be avoided altogether. You should also refrain from consuming it if the baby passed meconium before being born. Any abnormal development of the placenta voids the idea of encapsulating it also. Outside of these issues, there is still reason to be cautious, but not necessarily enough to recommend against the practice of placenta encapsulation.
2. There are no safe-handling guidelines published for placenta encapsulation.
Mothers who want to pursue this option must work with an encapsulation specialist for best results. No government agency in the United States oversees licensing or certification of individuals or agencies who provide this service. There are independent groups, such as The Association of Placenta Preparation Arts, which do certify providers. Members follow safe food processing guidelines voluntarily. It is up to you to verify the quality of the services you’re requesting.
3. Each hospital has its own policy about releasing the placenta.
No two hospitals are precisely alike when dealing with placenta encapsulation. Some locations require you to sign a release stating that you’re taking medical waste home. Others require the placenta to be contained within a sterile container and cooler. Oregon mothers are permitted under state law to take placentas home with them from the hospital. Although policies different, most states don’t have any laws in place regarding the placenta. If you’re interested in encapsulation, then consider speaking with your OB/GYN about adding it to your birthing plan.
Some hospitals will not allow you to take it. Others will not allow you to eat it without sending it to a local processor.
4. Some women experience side effects when consuming their placenta.
Although some women find the process of consuming their placenta positive and encouraging, it isn’t that way for everyone. Some women feel nauseous or dizzy after they take their placenta pills. Some of that may be due to the “ick” factor involved with organ consumption. The quality of the placenta could also be part of that process. Because of the many unknowns involved with this process, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against the practice.
5. The encapsulation process may limit the biologically active substances.
A 2016 study involving the composition of placental capsules analyzed 28 different samples through liquid chromatography to determine the concentration of 17 hormones. The researchers discovered that only three of the hormones were present at a high enough level to be relevant. Two of the hormones in the study, including progesterone, actually suppress milk production.
6. The benefit of iron consumption may not be relevant.
A randomized control study looking at women who consume placental capsules and those who don’t found that even though capsules contain 24% more iron, women taking a placebo had the same levels of the mineral in their blood as the mothers who consumed their placenta.
7. Contaminants found in the placental capsules pass along to newborns.
If mothers are breastfeeding their children and taking placental capsules to support their own health, then the product must be free of all contaminants. Anything found in the capsules will likely transfer to the child. This issue presented itself as late-onset sepsis from a Group B strep bacterial infection. The capsules consumed by the mother tested positive for the bacteria and identified as a potential infection source.
8. Most medical providers don’t even know about the pros and cons of placenta encapsulation.
An article published in October 2017 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 60% of gynecologists and obstetricians weren’t sure whether they should be in favor of the practice of placenta consumption. Over half of those documented in the research said they were uninformed about the benefits or risks of the practice. That means it is up to mothers and families to find providers who understand encapsulation to know if it is a decision they should pursue. For small, rural communities, that may not be possible.
The pros and cons of placenta encapsulation leave people either feeling intrigued or disgusted by the practice. An increasing number of mothers are embracing this practice to avoid issues with post-partum depression, breast milk production, and the stress which comes with childbirth. Although there is no conclusive scientific research to support the practice, testimonials suggest it could be useful. Consuming your placenta is a decision you’ll have to reach on your own.