During my first pregnancy, all I knew about placentas was that one existed in my body and would be evicted, along with my daughter, at birth. I have a vague recollection of this happening since I was busy being shocked that there was a new human in the world and I had grown her in my womb. Recovering from a pitocin/epidural vajayjay birth was manageable, but the exhaustion was a doozy (we’ll talk all things postpartum soon).
The second time around, my doula casually mentioned placenta encapsulation and it’s possible benefits. Maybe it was the hormones, or maybe it’s because I’m all about exploring “alternative” offerings, but I didn’t bat an eye at her suggestion that I have someone take my placenta and turn it into capsules for my consumption.
The specialist came and picked it up from our house (I birthed at the San Antonio Birth Center and was home four hours later) and had a blue jar filled with my dehydrated placenta the next day. And you know what? I felt amazing by the third day. Postpartum bleeding was practically done; I felt like I actually had energy; my milk supply was plentiful but not uncomfortable; my vajayjay no longer felt like it had pushed out a small bowling ball; and I wasn’t crying at the drop of a hat anymore (probably because the bowling ball had come out).
Hello, my name is Amanda. And I drank the placenta Kool-aid.
Why in the world would anyone do this? (Take placenta pills, that is—not drink placenta Kool-aid.) The CDC indicates that about one in nine women experiences postpartum depression. Of course, this accounts for reported symptoms, and often, symptoms aren’t. Some triggers include exhaustion, rapid hormone fluctuations, low levels of cortisol2, and low levels of iron. Placentas, however, are full of hormones that could address all these things:
- Oxytocin: the “love” hormone; supports bonding and pain relief
- Cortisone: assists in cortisol release
- Interferon: immune support
- Prostaglandins: acts as an anti-inflammatory agent
- Hemoglobin: replenishes iron and stimulates iron production
- Urokinase inhibiting factor: promotes faster healing and lessens bleeding
- Prolactin/HPL: stimulates healthy mammary production
Who is having her placenta encapsulated? When I culled my client files, I determined there is no one “type”: first-, second-, and third-time moms, surrogates, moms over 40, moms under 30, stay-at-home moms, nurses, doctors, other professional types. Some are curious about it upon first contacting us, others are experienced placentophagists (people who have ingested their placenta before). Partners have been supportive of encapsulation and most of the time will ask for pictures of the preparation process.
How is it done? The risks involved in placenta ingestion are the same as eating any food, as bacteria does have the opportunity to form and spread from cross-contamination when not handled properly. Encapsulation training is important to understand the strict handling and preparation procedures to lessen these risks. Lots and lots of cleaning and sanitizing is involved to prepare the workspace, which can be in a client’s home or the specialist’s designated workspace. Once all the cleaning is done and the supplies are prepared, the placenta is weighed, washed, photographed for records, and inspected. Often, a placenta print is made at this point. The umbilical cord is cut from the placenta and can be made into a keepsake (you know, like we keep baby hair and teeth, because that’s also normal). The placenta is then sliced into strips and dehydrated along with the cord. (Yes, like jerky.) Afterward, the strips are finely ground and added into capsules. Voila! Completed placenta encapsulation.
Alternatively, or in conjunction, pieces of the placenta can be used to make a smoothie right away or smoothie packs for later. There’s also placenta tincture, which has an indefinite shelf-life and can be saved for menopause, and placenta salve for skin wounds. There is a whole world of ways a placenta can be consumed, and if you’re strong of stomach and open to it, you can find a buffet of placenta recipes online.
Is there any proof that this works? Do you even science? Very few studies have been done to determine the efficacy of human placentophagy (other mammals are down with it, though, and one could argue that it’s done as self-preservation to not alert any predators to their presence), and it’s not likely to get much attention anytime soon. And while it’s gathering attention out in “the Internets,” there are still many women who’ve never heard about it. There are midwives who encapsulate, and there are providers who respond with condescension when women indicate they are keeping their placenta (I’ve been witness to this and so much more).
It is getting less and less weird to hear about in some circles, though, and it’s a great opportunity to say, “You don’t scare me. I ate my own placenta.” There’s also, “You can keep your protein shakes, I’ve got my placenta smoothie.” (Props to Candice for help with those gems.) Yes, there will always be someone who goes above and beyond with it, like the guy who made a pizza out of one, but that shouldn’t discount the anecdotal benefits reported by others.
I was, and still am, so sold on the idea of reintroducing these hormones back into my system during the postpartum period that I decided to become an encapsulation specialist. I’ve been working with placentas for almost two years, and my family no longer bats an eye at them. My oldest has seen many at this point, and they have sparked dialogue about proper anatomical terms and even the “where do babies come from” conversation. My husband will ask about variations or anomalies and rages along with me when a hospital ruins a placenta.
Not gonna do it? That’s cool. I’m not here to slap you into placenta submission.
Thinking about it? Here are three things to know:
- Do your research when looking to hire a specialist. Decide if you want the work done in your home or theirs. Determine the type of preparation you’d prefer: TCM or Raw Dehydration (more here).
- A specialist should provide information on how to properly handle the placenta at birth as well as other postpartum considerations.
- Find out what the policies are where you plan on birthing. In San Antonio, this varies. Two facilities will “hold” the placenta for at least 72 hours (unless you make a lot of noise), and two facilities require that the placenta be off the premises an hour after birth (we get creative with this one).
For the record, I did not actually drink placenta Kool-aid or bake a placenta pizza. I do, however, have the recipes!
Hormonal Changes in the Postpartum and Implications for Postpartum Depression: Psychosomatics. 1998 Mar-Apr;39(2):93-101.
- Cortisol Response to Ovine Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone in a Model of Pregnancy and Parturition in Euthymic Women with and without a History of Postpartum Depression: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 90(2):695– 699
Additional research on the benefits of placenta encapsulation available at: