“You ate what?!”
Follow me here – it may not be as crazy as it sounds. Unusual and uncommon? Yes definitely. But perhaps not necessarily “crazy” – once there is a bit of context to frame it. I’m talking about placenta encapsulation.
What is placenta encapsulation? It is the process whereby the placenta is steamed either raw or with herbs, dried, ground into a powder, and put into pills for the mother to consume in the postpartum period.
Most people’s immediate reaction when they hear this is: WHY would someone do that?
Before we get into the specifics of encapsulation, a disclaimer is necessary. There is very little scientific evidence to support any claims made about consuming the placenta in the postpartum period. This is because there has not been much research done. (Who would benefit from such a study?) Rather, it tends to be something that women have chosen to do based on other’s anecdotal experiences, intuition, and their trust in ancient tradition. Women’s claims about its benefits tend to be fairly consistent, and those will be shared here.
That said, let’s talk about the placenta. The placenta is an organ specific to gestation that grows with the baby. It is a fully functional organ that acts as a lifeline from mom to the baby. It takes nutrients, blood, fats, minerals, proteins, hormones and other important building blocks of life from the mother’s body and transfers it safely to the baby for growth and development. It allows for the exchange of nutrients and waste to occur as the baby grows. Toward the end of the pregnancy, the placenta begins to slow its function. Both mom and baby benefit from the nutrition and hormones within the placenta. It primarily sustains the life of the baby, but it also spends a great deal of time communicating with the mother’s biology.
All mammals consume the afterbirth automatically, except for humans. Some have said that this is for survival, so other animals will not track down a vulnerable prey. And yet, there is said to be a biological benefit in it as well. We humans see animals consume the afterbirth and usually respond with some level of revulsion, even though we cognitively know it is completely natural and beneficial for the mother and baby.
Placenta consumption by humans for medical benefit has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Midwives have known of the effectiveness of the placenta in stopping postpartum hemorrhage for centuries. So while it is not an entirely new phenomenon, its practice has dwindled so much in recent years, and physicians simply discard the placenta, so it has become practically unheard of to the point of seeming weird.
Thanks to the age of information, the benefits of placenta encapsulation have been shared by mothers all over the globe in recent decades. Our ability to process it and turn it into capsules and pills has made it seem much less daunting and it greatly reduces the ick factor. They are taken like vitamins.
The reported benefits are many and I’ll mention a couple here. Placenta encapsulation has been reported to support healthy lactation for breastfeeding mothers. Many women who have trouble with milk supply will report that their placenta pills helped them maintain ample milk supply for their baby.
One mother in Colorado shares her story with all who will hear. She says, “After my first birth, my milk dried up at 3 months postpartum with no explanation. My midwife, lactation consultants, and doctors could not figure out what happened. I heard about placenta encapsulation from my doula and midwife and they said that it may help with milk supply. I decided to give it a try with my second baby. I had the placenta processed and kept the pills in case my supply dried up again. Sure enough, around 3 months, my supply began to sharply decline. I started taking the placenta pills. Within 24 hours, my supply was back up. The placenta pills allowed me to breastfeed until he was 9 months old! As soon as I ran out of my placenta pills, my supply dried up almost overnight. I have 5 children, and each subsequent postpartum period has been the exact same. Once my pills are gone, so is my milk. I’m so grateful that my placenta pills were able to help me nurse for another 6 months with each of my children. Even if you aren’t planning to use them right away, no harm can come from having your placenta processed in case you find you could benefit from it.”
Many mothers report feeling much more physically and emotionally stable when they take their postpartum placenta pills, presumably thanks to the hormonal benefit they receive from them. After the baby is born and the placenta is expelled, the mother experiences a dramatic drop in her hormone levels. This can contribute to the baby blues and postpartum depression as the body is desperately trying to reach an equilibrium again, all while being sleep deprived, recovering from birth, and caring for a newborn. Many women who take their placenta will report that they never felt the baby blues. Their hormone levels remain stable as they transition to the postpartum period.
Finally, a common benefit that s reported by mothers who choose placenta encapsulation is increased energy levels. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that after having a baby, a woman is going to be tired. She just accomplished the greatest feat that any human being can do: birth a child. As previously mentioned, her hormone levels are trying to balance and she just lost the huge pile of nutrients she was benefiting from in the placenta. Postpartum women need a lot of replenishing! The placenta is said to be nature’s perfect replenishing tool for women.
Do some research. Talk to your birth doula or your postpartum doula. Ask questions of women who have had it done. As the mother above mentioned, it can’t hurt to have the pills made in case you find you can benefit from them.