So, you're curious about placenta encapsulation...
“That. Sounds. Gross.”
Fair enough. The idea of eating an organ that your own body produced is off-putting to some (er, most?). However, encapsulation is actually a great way to get the benefits of the placenta without, say, sitting down to a nice placenta steak dinner (This is an option if you’re so inclined). Because the placenta is dehydrated, pulverized and put into capsules there is no grossness for you to deal with. It’s akin popping a vitamin. Really!
“Okay, but isn’t there a lot of lead and other heavy metal junk in the placenta? I don’t want to be ingesting that stuff!”
You’re right, you don’t. The great news is, research shows that of the three heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, and lead) often present in the placentas of American women, the levels were well below what the FDA and/or the European Food Safety Authority deem as dangerous (3). Divide this amongst the 120 or so capsules that an average placenta might yield and you are in extremely safe territory. You might find higher levels of these same metals in some of the packaged foods you purchase at the grocery store. (Read this for more details on heavy metals in the placenta.)
”But, I’m vegetarian! No, wait, I’m vegan!”
Whatever your dietary lifestyle is, you may find peace thinking about ingesting your placenta this way: no living being died so that you could eat your placenta. Your placenta was built to nourish your baby during pregnancy, and was expelled from your body when it was no longer needed in that capacity. As we know that almost all mammals go on to eat their placentas, many vegetarians and vegans feel comfortable doing the same. Of course, this is a deeply personal choice and not one that anyone should make without feeling comfortable in the process.
I’ve heard there are no proven benefits.”
Hardcore research that looks specifically at encapsulation does not exist. Yet. There is, however, research that looks at specific elements of placenta encapsulation and offers support for the benefits of encapsulation. For example, we know that women suffering from unexplained fatigue can benefit from iron supplementation (1). The placenta happens to contain bio-available iron that came straight from your body. Another example is that we know the amniotic sac and fluid contain Placental Opioid Enhancing Factor (POEF) that heightens our natural analgesia (pain relievers) (2). What new parent doesn’t want to feel less fatigued and less pain?
“I just can’t get past the idea of eating an organ that filters out the bad stuff.”
You might have heard the placenta referenced to as a “filter” organ. However, its actual function would be more appropriately called a “facilitator” organ. The placenta keeps toxins away from the developing baby in utero that are then returned to the mother’s body to be flushed out of her system. They don’t hang out in the placenta. Choosing to encapsulate does not mean choosing to ingest nine (ok, ten) months’ worth of toxins.
“What are the benefits that are causing so many birthers to eat their placentas?”
Clients experience a myriad of benefits through encapsulation. The biggest three we hear about from our clientele are more energy, increased positive mood, and a bountiful milk supply. One study from the 1950s, while not up to today’s scientific research standards, found that consuming placenta encouraged milk supply (4). Other possible benefits include decrease in pain, faster healing time, lessened postpartum bleeding and better sleep, and less severe night sweats. We’ve even heard that they’ve helped with the hormonal swings that come with weaning!
“Are there any downsides to encapsulation?”
Occasionally people may feel jittery, a little bit like drinking too much coffee. This is often solved by decreasing the amount of capsules taken. Other possible, though uncommon, side effects are an off-putting taste, headaches, increased anxiety, or experiencing no tangible benefits. In my practice the reports of these side effects are minimal, with the vast majority of women having a positive experience with placenta encapsulation.
“How many placenta pills will I get? How long will they last?”
The number of capsules depends on a few factors. First, size matters! A large placenta will, in fact, yield more capsules than a smaller one. Second, how the placenta is processed affects yield. If the placenta is steamed first it shrinks and will not produce as many capsules as one that is started in a raw state. There are typically enough capsules to last a couple of months, by which time your body is usually back to a semi-normal state.
”Is there any reason why I wouldn’t be able to encapsulate my placenta?”
There are generally three categories of circumstances that make it inadvisable to encapsulate your placenta; two are usually preventable. The first is infection. If you are diagnosed with an uterine infection (or any other type of infection) during or shortly after labor, it is inadvisable to consume your placenta. The second circumstance is improper storage. Your placenta needs to be properly chilled within two hours of birth, and either processed or frozen within 48 hours. The third circumstance is if your placenta goes to pathology. Fortunately, you are the owner of your placenta and you can decline this if your care provider suggests it. Reach out to us for guidance before allowing your placenta to be taken to pathology.
“What will my experience be with encapsulation?”
This is a great question and one I hope you’ll share the answer to after you’ve experienced it for yourself. The truth is that you and your placenta are unique and what one person experiences may be quite different from what another person experiences. To hear what some of my clients have experienced check out their testimonies. I believe deeply in the power of our bodies to nourish and heal ourselves, and placenta encapsulation is one way to do this.
2. Kristal, Mark B. “Enhancement of Opioid-mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews: 425-35. Print.
3. Keller, Nikole. “APPA – Comprehensive Placenta Encapsulation Training | Blog.” APPA. 22 June 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
4. Soykova-Pachnerova, Eva, Vlastimil Brutar, Berta Golova, and Eva Zvolska. “Placenta as a Lactogogon.” Gyaecologia: International Monthly Review of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 138.6 (1954): 617-27. Print.