What Is Placenta Encapsulation — The Divisive Practice That Many Mums Swear By?

placenta pills

When you’re expecting a baby, you are subjected to all kinds of opinions, anecdotes, advice, judgement and criticism. While there are few topics within the world of pregnancy and parenting that escape the fate of dividing parents and parents to be, there are certain theories and practices that get people going more than others.

Pacifiers are one such topic, breastfeeding is another. And then there is the realm of what is considered to be “alternative” pregnancy and birth practices that can have people more up in arms than a bunch of anti-vaxxers at a booster clinic.

Placenta encapsulation is one such topic, and I am sure you can understand why. For many, the idea of eating something that their body has repelled is repugnant. For others, it makes perfect sense.

As an expectant mother myself, it’s been something I have been looking into doing as I am intrigued by the potential benefits, and I say “potential” because the science on this practice is still quite sparse. Here’s what I have learned about placenta encapsulation for anyone else who may be considering it as a post-partum option.

What Is Placenta Encapsulation?

In a nutshell, placenta encapsulation is the process by which your placenta (the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby while you are pregnant) is not discarded, but instead cleaned, dehydrated and ground down so that it can be put into capsules for daily consumption.

What Are the Alleged Benefits of Placenta Encapsulation?

It is thought that safely consuming your placenta in the fourth trimester can offer the following health benefits:

  • Increase milk supply to support breastfeeding
  • Balance your hormones
  • Reduce the risk of suffering postpartum depression
  • Increase iron levels
  • Assist the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy state
  • Reduce post-natal bleeding
  • Increase in energy levels

It is extremely important to note, however, that these benefits are anecdotal at this stage and that the scientific research to support these claims is extremely limited.

In a 2010 survey of 189 women over age 18, conducted by the University of Las Vegas Anthropology Department, the most commonly reported benefits of placentophagy were improved mood (40%), increased energy (26%), improved lactation (15%), and alleviated bleeding (7%). Of the most commonly reported negative effects, 69% reported no negative effects, unpleasant taste (7%), and headache (4%).

While there are plenty of mothers who have reported experiencing the benefits of encapsulation, it should be noted that every person is different and so not everyone will have the same experience if partaking in the practice.

What Are the Dangers of Placenta Encapsulation?

One of the things that concern people about consuming human placenta is the potential for contamination during the process of encapsulation. If the organ is not stored properly (it needs to be kept on ice for no more than six hours), handled incorrectly or not thoroughly cleaned, it can potentially lead to the generation of bacteria which can be harmful to you and your baby.

Another thing to consider is the risk of infections such as Group B Strep (Streptococcus agalactiae). There has been one reported case in the US of a baby becoming ill with late-onset sepsis as a result of the mother taking placenta pills. In Australia, expectant mothers are tested for Group B strep at around 37 weeks gestation but it’s still a good idea to chat to your doctor about the potential risks if you are considering encapsulating your placenta.

In terms of side effects from placenta consumption, as previously mentioned — some mild side effects such as headaches have been reported. There are also women who have said they felt more depressed when taking the capsules, with those symptoms ceasing once they stopped taking them.

Who Provides Encapsulation Services?

There are a number of small businesses that offer the service, usually run by experienced doulas or midwives.

It is absolutely recommended that if you are going to have your placenta encapsulated that you pay a professional to do it, rather than going down the DIY route.

How Are Placenta Pills Made?

According to the Association of Placenta Preparation Arts, as quickly as possible after the birth (within the first two hours after birth), the placenta should be placed into a food-grade container, then sealed and refrigerated or put on ice.

The doula that I have chatted to about encapsulation has asked my partner and I to bring a small esky or cooler bag to the hospital along with an airtight glass container to keep the placenta at the correct temperature until she can pick it up.

You may have to sign a form at the hospital consenting to have your placenta taken off the premises.

Depending on what you have agreed upon with your placenta pill provider, they will either pick the placenta up from the place you give birth or you will need to arrange to have it dropped off to them within an appropriate timeframe (no more than six hours).

Once the encapsulation specialist has the placenta they will thoroughly clean it and remove any clots and blood.

You have the option of choosing raw encapsulation or having the placenta steamed first. Some people prefer the steamed option as they believe it further minimises the risk of bacteria while others prefer the raw route as they believe the steaming process depletes the potency of the vitamins and minerals you are supposed to derive from encapsulating in the first place.

The placenta will then be dehydrated and ground into a fine powder so that it can be out into capsules — typically 120 -200 of them although yields will vary depending on the organ.

The tablets will typically then be available to be picked up or dropped off to you within 2-5 days so that you can begin taking them as recommended.

How Much Does Placenta Encapsulation Cost?

The price of having placenta pills varies depending on your provider, but the average price I have found for the full service is $350.

How Do I Know If Placenta Encapsulation Is Right for Me?

Like with many things to do with pregnancy and childbirth/childrearing, it is really a personal choice as to whether placenta encapsulation is something you want to do.

As with anything of this nature though, it is vital to do your research and speak to your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of placenta encapsulation that are specific to you.

At the end of the day, it is totally up to you if you want to see what placenta pills can do for you but remember that the evidence is so far anecdotal and that individual results may vary.

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