There are usually two types of reactions when I say “placenta consumption”. Either, “Oh mah gahh I’m doing it too”, or.. “What are you, a cannibal?!”. Placentophagy, as it is formally called, is pretty popular in natural communities and slowly gaining mainstream traction in the U.S.
Since I’m sitting here 38 weeks pregnant and reflecting on my post-partum plan, I’m definitely looking forward to encapsulating my placenta to supplement while I heal and recover. I was referred to Tyo Birth Care from another mama who sung the praises of this service, so I reached out to learn more about the process and to hire her on to encapsulate what has been a nutrient source for my lil bub for 9 months.
Kate Tyo, the founder of Tyo Birth Care, is a doula and certified placenta encapsulator with a laid back and extremely welcoming vibe. I picked her brain about all things placenta encapsulation to answer some questions that readers have sent me, and to help inform your decision if you are looking into this post-partum wellness practice as well. Read on to learn!
Everything You Need To Know About Placenta Encapsulation
1. How does placenta encapsulation work? Where did it originate from?
Placenta encapsulation in a nutshell: The placenta is steamed or not, depending on the preference of the mother. It’s then sliced into very thin strips, dehydrated for hours until fully dry, then ground into a fine powder and put into capsules. New moms ingest their caps during their postpartum recovery to help the body heal and function. Placenta encapsulation is something that women are doing to reap the benefits from this amazing organ that their bodies created. Just as it nourished their baby for 9+ months, it can nourish the mom, too!
Placentas have been recognized for ages for their usefulness in general remedies and have played a part in various cultural superstitions. Placentas have been used in Chinese Medicine for well over a millenium. More current medical trials have looked at the role of the placenta in treating everything from vitiligo, to cancer, to heart attacks, to increasing the immune system. Some cultures have recognized the placenta to have protective powers and would send warriors off with a piece of cord tied or sewn into their clothes.
Placentophagy, or, the eating of the placenta, is mostly seen as a recent Western practice, and something that until recently was hidden away in the “crunchiest” of circles. Only in the last ten to fifteen or so years has placenta encapsulation become more popular among women that might identify more as “mainstream”.
2. What are the benefits?
Each woman and each placenta is unique, so what one woman experiences will almost definitely vary from what another woman does; and your results may vary from one pregnancy to another, as well! (If you’ve been pregnant more than once, you may have noticed that you craved different things or felt differently at similar points in your pregnancies. The magic of hormones!) Most of my clients are deciding to encapsulate to get more energy, more milk, and to have an easier time emotionally as their bodies adjust to being not-pregnant. Some women find they sleep better, are less anxious, and even experience less postpartum bleeding. I’ve had some clients encapsulate simply because it feels “right” to put back into their bodies this amazing thing that nourished their babies; it becomes a full circle experience! There is not a lot of scientific evidence out there (yet!) regarding these benefits, but there is so much anecdotal evidence it’s almost overwhelming!
3. Are there any potential risks?
When a placenta is handled correctly and proper protocols regarding temperatures and time are followed, there is minimal risk to encapsulation. A recent study was released that looked at thousands of women that encapsulated and evaluated the health outcomes for both mom and baby, as well as compared them to outcomes of women that did not encapsulate. There were no negative outcomes associated with placenta encapsulation; in fact, the group that did not consume their placenta had slightly worse outcomes – that doesn’t mean encapsulation is protective, but it is an interesting thing to note. (If you are interested in research, you can Google the MANAStats Placentophagy Study for more info.) In order to further minimize risk, women will want to make sure the encapsulator they choose practices Universal Precautions every step of the way. This includes using an EPA-approved sanitizing agent appropriate for Blood Borne Pathogens *and* using it correctly, and using proper equipment (no ovens for dehydrating, please!) and personal protective gear (this protects both clients and the encapsulator). Recently there has been some concern circulating over whether ingesting the placenta can inhibit breast milk production because of some of the hormones contained in the placenta. I have not encountered this in my practice, and have colleagues that are both encapsulators and IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) that do not share this concern. I believe anything is possible when hormones are at play, but this is not a likely scenario in my opinion!
4. How does it help with energy/mood/hormones postpartum?
Well, I’ve got to start off with saying, there is just so much that researchers are still discovering about the power of the placenta post-birth. What encapsulators like me, and the women who consume their placentas (also, like me!) think happens is this: This powerful organ that works so hard to grow a baby through nine+ months of pregnancy is chock full of nutrients and hormones. During pregnancy, the placenta acts as the hormonal powerhouse for the baby AND the mama, so after birth the woman’s body needs to take back that job again. We suspect that ingesting the hormones and nutrients contained in the placenta helps to ease this time of hormonal transition, and then work to support the mother as her body adjusts to being not-pregnant AND works to meet the demands of taking care of her newborn (building a milk supply, experiencing fatigue, hormonal regulation, building up iron levels). The great thing about the nutrients and hormones contained in the placenta is that they seem to be much more bioavailable (that is, able to be used by the body) than other sources because they are made by the body.
5. Does it help with postpartum hair loss?
Ooo, such a great question, as the four-month postpartum hair loss is no joke! There is some thought out there that applying a placenta remedy directly to the scalp and using heat can improve scalp health. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of evidence – scientific or anecdotal – to back this up, but I’ll reflect back to my previous statement that each woman and each placenta is unique, and you might be the lucky woman the dodges hair loss through placenta encapsulation!
6. Anything else we should know about placenta encapsulation? What other ways can mothers consume/use their placenta?
The idea of placenta encapsulation con conjure up some strong reactions, especially from partners and family members. Our culture has not been fabulous about recognizing the challenges and sacredness of recovering from childbirth. As many tools as you can get in your postpartum tool kit, the better! But also know this: placenta encapsulation is just one way to support yourself postpartum, so beef up that tool box with lots of additional things: visitors that bring you food and take out the trash; a postpartum doula; a lactation consultant you can call if needed; the expectation that your job for as long as you possibly can is simply to be in bed with your baby so your body can heal, and NOT do laundry/entertain the family/cook dinner; a friend that will simply listen when you feel a little nuts; body work like chiropractic, craniosacral, or massage. You, and your baby, are worth it!
The placenta can also be consumed as a tincture. Tinctures take about 6 weeks to be ready to use, so they are a great thing to compliment your capsules; about the time your capsules may be running out, your tincture is there waiting for you! A tincture functions similarly to the capsules nut is consumed in such small amounts (5-10 drops at a time) that it will likely last you years (I still use mine from my last baby, who is now 3 1/2 years old!).
If you’re into skin products, a placenta salve is another fun way to use part of your placenta. Made with healing, soothing herbs and moisturizing oils, a salve can feel great on a cesarean scar, a sore perineum, or stretched skin on your belly or breasts.
I haven’t seen many takers on this, but the placenta can be cooked and eaten like a steak or incorporated into various recipes (placenta tacos, anyone?). Sometimes, raw pieces of placenta are blended into a smoothie (this is most safely done in a homebirth environment, so that temperatures can be controlled and bacterial growth minimized).
Some women don’t want to consume their placenta (or, they can’t because of infection). They may find it meaningful to plant the placenta in a special spot, or beneath a tree or bush in honor of their little one.
For the practically-minded, County Sheriff Departments may be able to take a donated placenta to train their canine units.
Have any other questions for Kate? Comment below and I’ll add the to this article!