If you are squeamish about the mere thought of a woman eating her placenta, I advise you to stop reading now. Because I consumed all three of my placentas, both encapsulated and raw. Yes, you read right: I ate my placentas.
First, I must caution that I can find no scientific evidence that consuming placenta provides any benefits to a woman. Studies about facilitating contractions, resumption of normal cycles, and aiding milk production are inconclusive. Furthermore, depending on the treatment and preparation of the organ, placentophagy can increase the risk of exposure to harmful viruses and bacteria including hepatitis B. Many other animals eat their placentas after birth, and many cultures have engaged in the practice throughout history, but science does not currently support placentophagy among human mothers.
Some of the purported benefits of consuming the placenta after birth include:
- Replenishing your own natural hormones
- Replenishing depleted iron
- Lessening postpartum bleeding
- Increasing milk production
- Increasing energy
- Lessening the baby blues
- Decreasing the risk of postpartum depression
How does the placenta provide all these benefits to a postpartum mother? A placenta contains the following chemicals that are lost during delivery but purportedly returned during consumption:
- Gonadotrophin: The precursor to estrogen, progesterone and testosterone
- Prolactin: Promotes lactation
- Oxytocin: For pain and bonding and which is produced during breastfeeding to facilitate bonding of mother and infant
- Thyroid stimulating hormone: Boosts energy and helps recovery from stressful events
- Cortisone: Combats stress and unlocks energy stores
- Interferon: Stimulates the immune system to protect against infections
- Prostaglandins: Anti-inflammatory
- Hemoglobin: Replenishes iron deficiency and anemia
- Urokinase inhibiting factor and factor XIII: Stops bleeding and enhances wound healing
- Gammaglobulin: Immune booster that helps protect against postpartum infections
What is placenta encapsulation? Placenta encapsulation is the process whereby the placenta is cleaned, dried, and encapsulated into pill form. The placenta capsules are then taken orally by the postpartum mother.
When I first heard about placentophagy, I was admittedly a bit squeamish. However, after doing some reading, I changed my mind and decided to have my placenta encapsulated after the birth of my first daughter. After I delivered my placenta, my midwives and doula placed the flattened circular organ in a bowl in my refrigerator. Instead of simply discarding my placenta in the trash, I wanted to keep the organ for the purpose of placenta encapsulation. My doula encapsulated my placenta for me, and I took a placenta pill about three times a day for the first few weeks after the birth of my daughter. After that time, I popped a pill only when I thought I needed one. During my first few days postpartum, I definitely had some baby blues. I was weepy and would cry about the most insignificant things. My baby blues went away quickly, and I never developed postpartum depression after the birth of my oldest, which was a big worry for me. Because I have a history of depression and anxiety, I worried about developing postpartum depression. Whenever I feel weepy or sad, I simply pop a placenta pill and start feeling better pretty quickly. Did the placenta pills help me? Were any benefits the result of the placebo effect? I cannot answer either question conclusively, but I can say that I would have my placenta encapsulated again.
With my son, I decided to skip encapsulation and simply consume my raw placenta. After my son was born, I delivered my placenta into a large plastic bowl that I had purchased specifically for that purpose. The bowl eventually made its way into my refrigerator, after which I cut the organ into small pieces. I placed the pieces in a freezer-safe container and thawed my placenta bit by bit in the weeks following the birth of my son. While some women opt to eat the raw placenta plain, I added mine to juice to make smoothies. (The idea of eating plain raw placenta still grossed me out a little.) I still have some of the frozen placenta in my deep freezer. I may put the remaining pieces in the bottom of the hole when I plant another tree in my yard. Placenta planting is another practice that some parents do after the birth of a child.
Did eating my placenta raw provide me with any of the purported benefits of placentophagy. I honestly have no idea, and science tends to say no. And, while I kept the potential risks of eating raw placenta in the back of mind, I felt confident that my placenta had been handled, prepared, and stored safely. (I definitely would have reconsidered had I given birth in a hospital because I likely would not have been able to guarantee the safety of the organ.)
After the birth of my third child, I again had my placenta encapsulated. I was not able to get my hands on the pills until almost three weeks postpartum. Full disclosure: I began taking the antianxiety medication escitalopram immediately after the birth of my second daughter. I had been taking the medicine when I got pregnant with her due to anxiety that I developed after the death of my father about seven months after the birth of my son. Because I was already taking a medication for depression and anxiety, I was less worried about postpartum mental illness. I did take the placenta pills, but I cannot really say anything about the efficacy because of co-use of escitalopram.
Would I recommend placentophagy? Under the right circumstances, sure. Would I consider eating my placenta in the future? If I had another homebirth, probably. Does science support the claims that placentophagy benefits a new mother. No. If you are considering eating your own placenta, please understand that the benefits are not proven and that handling and consuming the organ comes with some risks. Otherwise, bon appétit!
Did you eat your placenta after birth? Did you encapsulate your placenta? Would you engage in placentophagy in the future?
The benefits of placenta encapsulation for postpartum healing: http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2011/10/the-benefits-of-placenta-encapsulation-for-postpartum-healing.html
Placenta benefits: http://placentabenefits.info/articles.asp
Placenta bakery: The science: http://www.placentabakery.com/#%21
My Experiences with Placentophagy and Placenta Encapsulation © 2020 Heather Johnson
Raw Placenta in White Bowl © 2011 Heather Johnson
Placenta Pills in Hand © 2012 Heather Johnson
Raw Placenta in Red Bowl © 2014 Heather Johnson
Raw Placenta Juice Smoothie © 2014 Heather Johnson
Placenta Pills in Plastic Bag © 2017 Heather Johnson
Placenta Pills © 2017 Heather Johnson