Placenta Encapsulation: Would You Eat Your Own Placenta?
More and more women and around the world are consuming their own placentas in the form of capsules. Find out about the process of placenta encapsulation and more in this article. Note: this article contains a few graphic images.
If you are pregnant, your body has, rather miraculously, grown an organ with the sole purpose of ensuring the wellbeing of the baby in your womb. This organ is the placenta.
The placenta keeps your unborn baby’s blood supply separate from yours, but maintains a connection at the same time. It passes oxygen and nutrients from you to your baby via the umbilical cord and helps dispose of waste. Once your baby is born, the placenta is “born” too in the third stage of labour.
Usually, the placenta is disposed of after it leaves the mother’s body. But some mothers now are opting to consume their own placenta in the form of capsules.
This isn’t another modern fad, though. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the custom of consuming the placenta – or placentophagy — is centuries old and practised most often in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, the dried placenta is known as Zhî hé che (紫河车).
So, would you eat your own placenta? We bring you some great information about placenta encapsulation to help you decide.
Plasenta Encapsulation: The benefits of placenta consumption
Placenta encapsulation is “the act of processing a placenta and turning it into pills for consumption”, says Malaysia-based placenta encapsulation specialist Ashley HauYi*.
She explains that a woman may choose to consume her placenta for several reasons, such as to increase her breastmilk production levels, balance her hormones, reduce tiredness and for better postpartum recovery in general.
Popular Singapore-based midwifery and doula service Four Trimesters explains exactly which beneficial hormones and other nutrients found in a placenta can help boost a new mum’s health and wellbeing:
- Gonadotrophin: This is the precursor to the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, which are believed to help you avoid the “baby blues”, regulate post-birth uterine cramping and normalise and stimulate your libido.
- Prolactin: This hormone stimulates your breastmilk production and boosts mum-baby love and bonding. The milk-boosting properties of placenta have also been noted in studies (Soykova-Pachnerova, 1954; Bensky, 1997), where after consuming dried placenta, women with low supply issues had a positive increase in their milk production in just a few days.
- Prostaglandins: These anti-inflammatory hormones regulate uterine contractions after birth, helping your womb to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
- Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF): This stimulates the production of your “happy hormones”, including endorphins.
- Interferon and Gammaglobulin: Both of these help protect you against infection by stimulating the immune system.
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone: By regulating the thyroid gland, this hormone boosts and balances your metabolism and energy levels.
- Cortisone: This helps boost energy levels by unlocking energy stores in the body.
- Iron: This is so important to help you combat anaemia or postnatal iron deficiency. It also decreases fatigue and depression.
- Human Placental Lactogen (hPL): With lactogenic properties, this promotes mammary gland growth in preparation for breastfeeding and regulates your glucose, protein and fat levels.
The process of placenta encapsulation
Generally, it takes around 48 hours to process a placenta. It is first washed well in order to remove any excess blood, surface germs and meconium. Next, it is steamed to enhance its warming properties. While there may be a small amount of nutrient loss from the steaming process, many of the nutrients are retained — much like when we steam vegetables or fish for regular consumption.
Often, lemon and ginger are used in the steaming process. A placenta encapsulation specialist explains that “lemon is thought of as an antiseptic and helps to distribute the placenta throughout the body”, while “ginger specifically acts as a facilitator for energy and good blood flow”.
Ashley explains that when following a strict TCM method, myrrh (Mo Yao) is used rather than lemon, in the steaming process.
Do note that the herbs are not added to the placenta during encapsulation, but only to the water used for steaming it.
After this is the dehydration process, which uses very low temperatures to preserve the placenta’s nutrients. In fact, it is a much safer and more hygienic way to remove moisture than air drying. The last stage in the encapsulation process is grinding the dehydrated placenta to a powder, after which it is turned into capsules.
While many encapsulation specialists do the processing in their home kitchens under hygienic conditions, others have specially dedicated laboratories or work spaces to process the placenta.
While one placenta usually gives you about 80 to 100 capsules, according to Ashley, this also depends on the size of the placenta; some may yield more and other less.
Make it known in your birth plan that you want to encapsulate your placenta. Your doctor and nurses/midwives with them handle it with care to prevent contamination.
Can all placentas be encapsulated?
Almost all placentas are safe for consumption, says Ashley, regardless of whether you give birth vaginally or by C-section, have a premature birth or have twins.
However, there are a few instances when they may not be suitable. Examples are when the mum has HIV, hepatitis A, B or C, or any sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea or chlamydia.
Your placenta will also be suitable for encapsulation even if you need to take antibiotics during your pregnancy for whatever reason. However, Ashley says, “if you experience a uterine or placental infection during labour, that would render the placenta unsuitable for encapsulation”.
Usually, the placenta encapsulation specialist will ask to see your most recent blood test report before going ahead with the encapsulation process.
Informing your doctor about your wishes
If you are hoping to encapsulate your placenta, the first thing you need to do is let your gynaecologist know. He will tell you if this is possible from a health point-of-view.
Following this, you can note down your wishes in your birth plan and ensure your midwives and attending nurses during your birth are aware of it, says Ashley. They will then make sure that the placenta is handled properly to avoid contamination.
The “freshness factor”
In order to be turned into capsules, the placenta needs to be as fresh as possible. Ashley emphasises that what is important is to ensure the placenta is properly chilled or frozen immediately after birth.
Therefore, if you are planning to encapsulate your placenta, do notify the hospital staff so they can make sure the placenta is handled and stored properly after it is expelled from your uterus.
While some placenta encapsulation specialists will pick up your placenta from the hospital, others may require it to be delivered to them. It is your partner’s task to transport the placenta properly.
Storing your capsules
Store the capsules in a cool dark place like a cupboard or the refrigerator. If unused after two months, you can keep them in your freezer.
Tips to keep in mind during consumption of your placenta pills
- There is no need to avoid any particular type of food and drink while consuming the capsules.
- It is not recommended to consume the capsules if you have fever or mastitis/infection. Ashley explains that placenta capsules are deemed as “heaty” from a TCM point of view, and the belief is that the capsule may aggravate the infection.
- You don’t need to take a capsule a day if you don’t want to. Some mums actually save their capsules for when they feel it’s absolutely needed (e.g. to boost the quantity of breastmilk during a supply dip).
Other ways of consuming your placenta
In some cultures, some mums are open to consuming their placenta raw. They may do this by either blending small pieces of the placenta into a smoothie, or even eating it like sashimi.
However, experienced placenta encapsulation experts such as Ashley do not advocate this practice as most placentas are born via the birth canal and are “exposed to a multitude of bacteria, even fecal matter.”
Other mums might cook the placenta into their daily dishes like pasta or a stew. However, during the cooking process, the nutrients will leak into the sauces as well, and as such, may not be consumed completely. Ashley explains that this is why placenta encapsulation is the most preferred option for most people, as capsules are easy to consume, more palatable, preserve the placenta’s nutrients well, and are easy to store.
If you want to hear about another mummy’s experience of placenta encapsulation, head on over to blogger mum Mabel Lee’s story — just follow this link.
*You may contact Ashley via email at: [email protected]
Have you consumed your own placenta or know someone who has? Do share this experience with everyone by posting a comment below.