Our culture has done a wonderful job shaping our thoughts around birth, and placentas are part of that. How do we know the truth about placenta encapsulation and placentophagy? Placentas, to the vast majority of people in the Unites States at least, are typically seen as medical waste. At one point many people had no idea their placenta was not being thrown away at all, but that’s another story. Many people have the immediate response to the idea of ingesting our own placenta as repulsive and unsafe, and if you google placenta encapsulation there is no shortage of articles that will feed those feelings, but mind you, they are ALL opinion. Here are some of the most common misconceptions regarding placenta encapsulation.
Recently there was a CDC article on the dangers of GBS and placenta encapsulation. Is my baby going to get a GBS infection if I ingest my placenta through encapsulation and I have tested positive for GBS?
The CDC article posted in July of 2017 was incomplete in its information and misleading in the way it was profiled in the media. A professional placenta encapsulator would not process a placenta knowing there was a current infection. That said, there is also evidence whomever processed this particular placenta was not educated in the high temperature needed when dehydrating. Even if a placenta did have the infection present, dehydrating at a temperature of 160º would kill the bacteria. The article mentioned this placenta was processed raw (not steamed) and dehydrated at a temperature of 110º. It is no wonder the pills contained traces of GBS. If you ensure you have your placenta processed by a certified placenta encapsulator then there is no reason this would happen to you or your baby. Find out more information about GBS and Placenta Encapsulation here
There is no evidence for the benefits of placentophagy
While, it is true there has not been as much research on placentophagy as many would like, some hypothesize pharmaceutical companies avoid this research as it would directly affect sales on supplements. The few studies that have been done, though outdated, show promise in amnion fluid as a pain reliever (Krystal 1998) and others, though do not refer to placentas directly, open a door for understanding how placentophagy could be beneficial based on their complex components, such as the known hormones, and hormones it retains. Much of the evidence for placentophagy comes from traditions and mostly positive reviews of the growing numbers of mothers who either ingest their placenta raw or encapsulate.
Encapsulation is just a fad
The Chinese have been using placentas for a variety of medicinal uses for more than 1400 hundred years. In places like Mexico a mom is known to cut up bite-sized pieces of her recently birthed placenta and simply swallow chunks to ensure good milk supply and strength. (Enning 2011) The use and ingestion of placentas has been around for thousands of years, but has gained attention through famous celebrities such as Kim Kardashian who encapsulated her placenta. There has also been a revival in the use of natural remedies as many discover what goes into pharmaceuticals and believe a more naturally obtainable remedy is better for them and just as effective.
Other animals only eat their placenta to keep predators away
Did you know around 95% of mammals eat their placenta after birth? Humans are a minority for not partaking in this activity. There have been studies that the only reason animals eat their placenta is in order to hide evidence of a weak mother and infant from predators. Mark Kristal (1980) argued against this claim in his article, “Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma,” stating an animal will consume their placenta whether or not they have predators and many remain at their birth site even after their young can walk, to ingest their placenta. Primates, who birth in trees, could allow the placenta to fall to the ground away from them but choose to eat it instead. Additionally, birth fluids could easily attract predators but remain untouched and rarely cleaned up.
Heating/dehydrating the placenta takes away all the nutrients
Dehydration has been known to preserve and maintain nutrient levels in many types of foods for hundreds of years. It has been said by some that nutrients are lost but most of the benefits remain. (Beacock 2012) According to one study, “the amount of nutrients particularly protein and minerals in heat-dried human placenta were enriched”. (Phuapradit, et al., 2000)
Q. Does ingesting ones placenta help with milk supply while breastfeeding?
Mothers who have consumed their placentas have continually reported an increase of milk. Many IBCLCs who take note of their clients who have encapsulated their placenta hear of their effects and promote and encourage moms to try it. While antiquated, there have been a few studies proving this benefit through the prolactin the placenta provides. Unfortunately these studies are subjective and not reliable as evidence. The most affectual evidence is from the outstanding number of mothers who have experienced it themselves.
Q. Will eating my placenta ensure I will avoid PPD?
Nothing guarantees a mother will avoid have postpartum depression (PPD) as there are so many different factors that contribute to it building and affecting moms. Mothers have, however, reported placentophagy helping them and some giving full credit to their placenta when avoiding PPD. One study suggests postpartum depression is related to low levels of corticotropin-releasing hormones (CRH) after the placenta has been released from the body (1995, Discover). When a mother becomes pregnant the placenta is the sole provider of this stress-reducing hormone and it takes time for the brain to begin re-establishing the body’s supply once it has left the body. While never proven, it could be possible consuming placenta after birth helps to replenish its deficiency and help a mother avoid PPD.
Q. Will taking placenta capsules reduce postpartum bleeding?
Midwives historically used to use parts of the placenta to help control bleeding. The nutrients and hormones (such as oxytocin) found in placentas are thought to help your body heal faster ultimately helping to decrease bleeding.
Q. How does placentophagy provide more energy and combat fatigue?
One of the most common complaints of early motherhood is fatigue. An article ‘Postpartum Fatigue and Evidence-Based Interventions’ states, “Postpartum fatigue is a debilitating condition that may have an impact on a new mother’s ability to care for her child. It also may delay a woman’s return to functional status in the areas of household, social, employment, and self-care responsibilities and increase her risk of postpartum depression.” While it is true moms are often affected by an infant’s sleep schedule, this article goes on to state how low iron levels are one of the leading contributors to fatigue. “The placenta is thought to retain several hormones, opioids and nutrients previously stored and transported within it, including proteins, iron, vitamin B6, oxytocin and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)” (Beacock 2012) combating this low energy and/or possible iron deficiency.
Q. The placenta acts as a filter for the fetus from harmful bacteria and toxins. Why would I want to ingest it once my body has driven it out of me?
The placenta is known to filter out toxins to protect a growing fetus. The fault in this description is often times when someone thinks of a filter they picture a vacuum or an air conditioner trapping all the unwanted debris on the other side of the filter. A placenta does not work in this way. While it does filter out bacteria and toxins it does not hold them within it. It sends these bacteria and toxins back to the body for it to process as it normally would. More recently the New York Times linked to an NIH study pointing out three metals found in the placenta as well as breast milk. With careful research you will see the levels of these metals found in the placenta are far below what we already consume in our food or environment on a daily basis. It is thought by many professionals the benefits of breastmilk outweigh any concerns surrounding the metals; should this also be true for consuming your placenta? (Keller 2015)
Beacock, M (2012), “Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits?”, British Journal of Midwifery, Mark Allen Publishing Ltd, UK.
Beard, John L., Michael K. Hendricks*, Eva M. Perez*, Laura E. Murray-Kolb, Astrid Berg*, Lynne Vernon-Feagans†, James Irlam*, Washiefa Isaacs*, and And Alan Sive*. “John L. Beard.” Maternal Iron Deficiency Anemia Affects Postpartum Emotions and Cognition. The Journal of Nutrition, 01 Feb. 2005. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
Corwin, Elizabeth J., and Megan Arbour. “Postpartum Fatigue and Evidence-Based Interventions.” MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing 32.4 (2007): 215-20. Web.
Enning, Cornelia (2011), “Placenta: The gift of life”, Motherbaby press, Oregon.
Kristal, Mark (1980), “Placentophagia: A biobehavioral Enigma”, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 4, pp. 141–150, New York.
Krystal, Mark (1998) “Participation of Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor in Opioid-Modulated Events at Parturition.” n. pag. Prepared for an Invited Symposium on “Genital Sensation: CNS Targets and Functions in Females” for INABIS ’98 (the 5th Internet World Congress on Biomedical Sciences, 12/98). Web
.Phuapradit et al (2000), “Nutrients and hormones in heat-dried human placenta”, Journal of the medical association of Thailand.
(1995), “Baby blues – postpartum depression attributed to low levels of corticotropin-releasing hormones after placenta is gone”, Discover