"Placenta Encapsulation, Ew!"
I first learned about placenta encapsulation when I was taking my doula training workshop. And I was instantly mesmerized by it, it just made sense to me. It seemed so simple that I wondered why some mothers didn’t want to consume their placentas. So I started to ask why and I found some very unique responses. Among those were objections due to cannibalism and veganism. Others were concerned about the lack of statistical research and the benefits. I’d like to address some of these with you today.
First of all my number one objection was, “isn’t that cannibalism?’ This one truly lies in the eye of the beholder. Some may view it as such and that is fine. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines cannibalism as eating flesh of ones species, while flesh is then defined as the muscular tissues, not internal organs. So by definition it is not cannibalism. That being said if someone was uncomfortable and feel it is cannibalism that is perfectly fine as well.
“Is it vegan?” This is another one that the participant has to decide for themselves. Those that practice veganism that have been asked their views on placentophagy, the act of eating the placenta, have responded that because it didn’t come from an animals death, it was birth with life from the mother, that it is good to consume. And with the use of vegan capsules instead of gelatin capsules it is viable option for mother that practices veganism
“Don’t animals just eat it to protect their young from predators?” Though it has been widely theorized that animals only eat it to clean the birth site as to hide the newborn from predators, due to hunger, and as a shift to carnivorousness This has been disproven due to the fact that this has been witnessed in all mammals, not only subgroups of mammals. (Kristal, 1980) It is a more reasonable theory that there is nutritional benefits as herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores all consume their placentas. (Beacock, 2012) The only mammals that have not been found to participate in placentophagy are aquatic mammals, marsupials, and those kept in captivity. (Kristal, 1980)
“It will taste nasty!” There is a slight taste associated with the capsules. From my personal experience, when I first started taking mine after my second child was born I would take them with a glass of chocolate milk. Another mom I know took them with orange juice. Think about a flavor you like and take them with that and it should mask the slight taste.
“There’s no research about it.” While there is no conclusive research into placentophagy because of the range of variables that comes from having human studies, there are many that show a correlation to the benefits of placentophagy. A study was done in the 1950’s on the effects of the placenta used to treat insignificant milk production. (Soykova-pachnerova, 1954) Women who were having difficulty breastfeeding were given placenta or ground meat as a control. (Soykova-pachnerova, 1954) The study found that consuming their placenta did help increase their milk supply. (Soykova-pachnerova, 1954) Another was done to measure the nutrient and hormonal content of heat-dried human placenta. And it showed that the placenta retained the nutrients and hormones through the heat-drying process, the same one used in both the Traditional Chinese Method and the Raw Method. There was a study done by three doctors, Hendrick, Altshuler, and Suri, that studied the hormones of women postpartum to show that hormones do play a role in postpartum depression. (Victoria Hendrick, 1998) This also showed that even normal levels of hormones when increased can help bluster a mother’s mood and help alleviate the symptoms of postpartum depression. (Victoria Hendrick, 1998) BMJ published a study showing that iron fatigue can be present without the mother being anemic. (BMJ, 2003) Elizabeth J. Corwin, PhD, RN, CNP, and Megan Arbour, MS, CNM took this information farther showing that that this fatigue can weigh on a mother and might be a trigger for postpartum depression. (Elizabeth J. Corwin, 2007) That being said, there is hope for the mothers in that the placenta was a readily available source of iron and it can help mothers with iron fatigue. Furthermore showing that the placenta can help mothers with postpartum depression.
“So what are the reported benefits?” Reported benefits all come from the mothers who have consumed their placentas. Some mothers report such benefits as:
1. Increased milk production
2. Increased energy
3. Mood stability
4. And a decrease in depressive symptoms.
“It’s just a placebo effect.” While there have been no conclusive studies to say it is not a placebo effect, the judgements and experiences of mothers who have had success with placenta encapsulation should not be dismissed. And there is plenty of research to so that there is a correlation between consumption and the effect mothers feel.
“It’s full of toxins!” Contrary to popular belief the placenta does not function as a filter for toxins, the mothers liver and kidneys preform that function. It does however function as a barrier between the mothers and baby’s blood, keeping the two separated while still allowing nutrients and gasses to pass from one’s blood to the others. This being said, you will still find some toxins within the placenta just as you will in the mothers body, the baby’s body, and the mother’s breast milk, but they are not stored within the placenta. (Rishi Desai)
“Can I consume my placenta if I’m RH-?” Yes! In fact it has been theorized “That placenta contains factors which, if ingested during delivery, would prevent the mother from forming the antibodies, becomes an intriguing candidate for the elusive adaptive advantage.” (Kristal, 1980) Simply stated that it may function like the immunization given to RH- mothers following birth. Though more research is needed in this area. Another reason is that these incompatibility are only an issues when Rh+ and RH- blood interacts directly, which can happen at birth. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011) It should not be an issue since the placenta will be ingested and not introduced directly into the blood stream.
And finally the question of all questions. The one expecting mothers really want to know. “Does it really help with postpartum depression?” In theory, yes. We have learned that the placenta takes over production of many hormones during pregnancy. And that lack of the hormones following the birth of the baby and placenta can have an effect on the emotional state of the mother. (Victoria Hendrick, 1998) We have also learned that the Placenta after preparation still contains those hormones along with many nutrients. The theory follows that the hormones and nutrients still present in the placenta can then help boost the levels in the mother through oral consumption. While no studies exist that confirm this theory in its entirety the experiences of mothers who have consumed their placentas have shown a correlation between the consumption of the placenta postpartum and a decrease in postpartum depression. (Beacock, 2012)
This was a fun learning experience for myself. I got to learn about other’s thoughts and feelings towards placenta encapsulation. And through it I learned a lot about the research supporting placenta encapsulation itself. What were your first thoughts when you heard about placenta encapsulation?
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Beacock, M. (2012). Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits? British Journal of Midwifery,
BMJ. (2003, March 20). Iron supplementation for unexplained fatigue in non-anaemic women: double blind
randomised placebo controlled trial. Retrieved from
Elizabeth J. Corwin, P. R. (2007, July/August). Postpartum Fatigue and Evidence-Based Interventions.
MCN, American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 215-220.
Kristal, M. B. (1980). Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma. Neuroscience & Biohehavioral Reviews, 4.
Nutrients and Hormones in Heat-Dried Human Placenta. Journal of the Medical
Association of Thailand, 83(6).
Rishi Desai, M. (n.d.). Meet the Placenta. Khan Academy. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bQioHx12JuY
Soykova-pachnerova, E. (1954). Placenta as a Lactagogon.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011, January 1). What Is Rh Incompatibility? Retrieved
from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:
Victoria Hendrick, M. L. (1998). Hormonal Changes in the Postpartum and Implications for Postpartum
Depression. PSYCHOSOMATICS, 39(2).
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Alesha Kreger is a mother of three children. She has a love of helping women through the transition into motherhood.