When I sometimes tell people that I do placenta encapsulation for clients who desire it; the reactions I receive are usually faces appearing to have just smelled something obnoxious, and less than enthusiastic attitudes. At best, most are intrigued with how it is processed, and for what purposes someone would want to consume their placenta. Below are some interesting facts about the placenta, description of the different processes used for encapsulating the placenta, and the benefits reported by new moms (aka, anecdotal evidence), who have consumed their placentas.
Very basically, the placenta is a temporary organ developed in the uterus during pregnancy. It is shared between Mama and Baby. The umbilical cord connects Baby to the placenta, providing him with oxygen and nutrients from Mama to grow, while also removing waste from his blood. In this way, the placenta acts as both a lung and a filtering system for Baby. The placenta also secretes large amounts of hormones to keep baby from delivering, too early; as well as hormones which pave the way for delivery.
We are one of only a few animals that does not practice placentophagy, or consuming our placentas as part of the normal birth process. There is much debate from just about anyone you ask, as to whether animals do it for safety purposes (hiding evidence from predators), or for physiological purposes (see reported benefits below). Maybe it's both.
Midwives around the globe have known the uses and healing benefits of the placenta for centuries. One practice of midwives includes using the placenta to stop postpartum hemorrhage following delivery. The placenta is believed to hold increased amounts of hormones from pregnancy and delivery, in addition to high levels of iron. Midwives, by cutting off a piece of the raw placenta and giving it to the mother to hold inside her cheek, use the mother's own hormones and nutrients held in the placenta, which are immediately transferred into mama's blood stream, to stop the blood flow. These hormones cause the uterus to clamp and slow the blood flow.
Some cultures make it a regular practice to give mama a piece of the placenta to hold in her cheek as a way of avoiding hemorrhage, altogether. Some homebirth mamas choose as part of their birth plan, to consume a piece of their placenta in a smoothie immediately after giving birth, for the reported benefits of its ability to provide a surge of energy, as well as decrease bleeding.
In US hospitals and hospital based birth centers, synthetics are given immediately after birth to control maternal, postpartum bleeding.
Some Reported Benefits of Placenta Consumption Include:
increase in milk production
increased energy levels
decrease in stress levels
decrease in postpartum baby blues/depression
decreased postpartum bleeding
Some Methods of Consumption
as an ingredient to other recipes
The Encapsulation Process
Traditional Chinese Medicine Method (TCM)
This method has been used for generations upon generations. This process is based on the idea of Yin (cold) and Yang (warm). Steaming the placenta, along with the healing properties of lemon (grounding), ginger (circulation) and jalapeno (warmth) are believed to restore the warmth to a woman's body, and provide balance to her after birth, which is thought to leave a woman's body in a cold state.
The process involved includes: First, steaming the placenta with lemon, ginger and jalapeno. Then, it is cut into thin slices and placed in a dehydrator. After dehydration is complete, the pieces are ground into a fine powder and put into capsules for consumption.
Benefits of this process are reported by women to have a more calming effect and reduction in postpartum depression. However, this process produces fewer capsules, since during the steaming process the placenta shrinks (see pics above).
Raw (Simple) Method
Believing that some of the healing properties and nutrients are destroyed in the heating process of the TCM method; this process skips this step. Raw slices of the placenta are dehydrated on a lower setting, ground into fine powder and put into capsules for consumption. This process yields more capsules than the TCM method, which allows for longer consumption. The benefits reported are an increase of energy. Some believe the raw method of preparation provides more medicinal value.
It is relevant to note that despite warnings from the CDC, that placenta consumption poses no health risks to the newborn, as reported by a new study conducted by UNLV, which found no harm to newborns of women who practice placentophagy.
None of the studies conducted on placentophagy, so far have supported the benefits reported by mamas practicing it. However, most admit in discussion to limitations in the method as possible factors. Studies are continuing to be conducted by universities such as, UNLV, who previously concluded no hormonal benefits or otherwise from placenta consumption. However, they in their Placenta vs. Placebo study suggested, "... it doesn’t necessarily mean that between-group differences do not exist, just that we did not have a large enough sample size for differences to appear."
Other resources used for this article include:
Three Keys to Avoiding Postpartum Hemorrhage
What is the difference between raw (simple) and steamed (TCM) Placenta Encapsulation?
UNLV Study: Placenta Consumption Offers Few Benefits for New Mom
Study: Maternal Placenta Consumption Causes No Harm to Newborn
Maggie Watkins is the mother of 2 adult children. She has over 20 years experience working with pregnant and postpartum families as a private hire doula and prenatal educator. She has a passion for birth and postpartum, along with a strong belief that parents become more confident in their roles the more they are supported and encouraged, without judgement of birth choices; and through the first several days at home with their new baby.