Are you an expectant parent looking to learn more about what exactly placenta encapsulation is? Here are the basics to know about this ancient tradition of postpartum support. Read, learn, and decide if placenta encapsulation is right for you!
The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. Unlike other organs, the placenta only exists during pregnancy. The placenta allows for the exchange of nutrients, oxygen, and blood between the pregnant person and baby. The placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus (usually on the back, top, or right or left sides). The amniotic sac and the umbilical cord are both attached to the placenta. After giving birth, the placenta is expelled from the uterus, and the umbilical cord is cut.
Placenta consumption (sometimes called placentophagy), is a centuries-old practice. It is well-known in the area of Chinese medicine. The practice has grown in popularity around the world as more and more parents try it in hopes for an easier and calmer postpartum experience.
In short, placenta encapsulation is the practice of ingesting the placenta after it has been dehydrated, ground, and placed into pills. At APPA, we train professionals to do two types of encapsulation: traditional (in which the placenta is steamed before being dehydrated) and raw start (in which the placenta is not steamed).
The capsules containing dried placenta are taken by the birthing parent in the period after giving birth, usually within the first six or so weeks postpartum. They can also be taken during a menstrual period or even during menopause (the belief is that the hormones contained in the capsules help counter some of the symptoms of menopause).
The components of encapsulated placenta
In an analysis from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the placenta was shown to contain detectable concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, rubidium, selenium, strontium, uranium, and zinc. There were not found to be significant amounts of any of the tested heavy metals. Some of the nutrients are at levels high enough to potentially contribute to recommended daily allowances.
Hormones are also present in encapsulated placenta. In a review of maternal salivary hormones, researchers found “detectable changes in circulating hormone concentrations that could potentially impact a mother’s hormonal physiology.” Specifically, samples of placenta capsules contained 11-deoxycortisol, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 7-ketodehydroepiandrosterone, aldosterone, allopregnanolone, androstenedione, corticosterone, cortisol, cortisone,dehydroepiandrosterone, estradiol,estriol, estrone, progesterone, and testosterone. Estradiol, progesterone and allopregnanolone were found in “clinically significant” levels or levels high enough to affect the body (when dosed at the typical 3300 mg dosage).
Incidentally, allopregnanolone is the active ingredient in the recently approved drug brexanalone, seen as a promising pharmaceutical treatment for postpartum mood disorders.
The benefits of placenta encapsulation
Tradition and holistic medical customs suggest a number of potential advantages from ingesting the placenta. Each placenta is different and each person has different needs, therefore the benefits are likely to be different for each individual person. We have heard everything, from increased energy and milk supply to radiant skin and hair. The important thing to remember is that the placenta is not a highly-regulated drug—it is nutrition. Like most things you ingest, there are chemical compounds, minerals, vitamins and even hormones that will have an effect on your body.
189 women over age 18 responded to a 21 question survey conducted in 2010 by the University of Las Vegas Anthropology Department. Of those surveyed, the most commonly reported benefits of placentophagy were–
- improved mood (40%),
- increased energy (26%),
- improved lactation (15%),
- alleviated bleeding (7%).
Of the most commonly reported negative effects–
- 69% reported no negative effects,
- unpleasant taste (7%),
- and headache (4%).
A link between decreased maternal exhaustion and high quality sleep was found connected to mothers who ingested their placenta.(Selander).
The research validates some of the most common benefits reported to us, such as:
- Overall decreased recovery time
- Reduced postpartum bleeding and faster uterine involution (involution refers to the uterus returning to its pre-pregnancy size)
- A decrease in the incidence and severity of postpartum depression and “baby blues”
- Increased energy
- Restoration of blood iron levels
- Increase in milk production
- Better sleep
Placenta use in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Placenta has been used in TCM for centuries and has been featured in various editions of Chinese medical texts, including in the Materia Medica, as an herb known as 紫河車 or zǐ hé chē (ze, HEU, cheu). This text states that placenta warms the kidney channel, promotes qi absorption, supplements the essence, and nourishes the blood.
The theory of TCM as it relates to childbearing people and the postpartum time is that people are depleted of qi following birth because they give off their own life essence in bringing a child into the world. The theory includes that people who have recently given birth can become infected by cold, so warming is key for them, both inside and out. We have found historical evidence for use in treating insufficient lactation by boosting qi (energy or warmth), and nourishing the blood. Zǐ hé chē, or placenta, is said to be effective through the lung, liver, kidney, and heart channels of the body.
Various methods of placenta preparation
Traditional preparation (steamed prior to dehydration)
- These have a lower microbial count and may be the preferred method when GBS colonization is present. They have a lower hormone concentration.
Raw start preparation (not steamed prior to dehydration)
- These have a higher hormone content and a higher microbial count. Some people find them very powerful, so the effects can be managed by the amount ingested (eg, take less if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious). This preparation is well within safe food parameters when appropriate temperatures are used.
A tincture is made when a piece of placenta is soaked in alcohol to extract the healing and medicinal properties. It is quite similar to herbal preparations. It is believed to have similar effects as capsules, although it is a more uncommon preparation.
A smoothie is made when a piece of raw or frozen placenta is added to a smoothie. Some people believe this is a beneficial way to consume placenta directly after birth. In general, consuming placenta via a smoothie will retain the Placenta Opioid Enhancing Factor (POEF) (this can be considered “nature’s morphine” as it can provide pain relief).
We recommend smoothie consumption directly after birth, so as to limit pathogen growth. Only a small chunk is needed and the rest can be encapsulated. Smoothie preparation is limited by the logistics of safe preparation requirements for APPACs—while it is possible for other birth settings, it is easiest to prepare in a home birth setting.
Some people cut and freeze chunks of placenta for smoothies. This practice is also somewhat limited by the timing and logistics of preparation after a birth. There is no available data on the effects that freezing may have on the placenta.
- If you feel that Placenta Encapsulation is right for you, find a specialist that works for you. Browse our APPA Certified Specialists here
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