Placenta encapsulation, or placentophagy, is gaining more acceptance among expectant mothers and mainstream society, but it’s still a taboo subject for many. Placentophagy is the consumption of the placenta in raw or altered form. I’ve never been one to care if someone finds my personal choices normal or not, but I do enjoy educating others on why I decide to try out a somewhat taboo postpartum practice.
To some people the idea of ingesting the placenta, in any form, after giving birth is disgusting and serves no purpose. It’s something crazy hippies do to achieve a sort of spiritual, ritualistic closeness or closure after birth, or a placebo affect that’s all in our heads. I turned to science to learn why women ingest placenta pills, and to make my decision based on research that is currently available; which is not enough!
What did I find? There are a variety of potential benefits to placenta encapsulation! I’m finding the benefits within myself currently, as I nurse and recover with my week old newborn. I have not experienced any issues with milk supply like I did with my first born, nor have I had postpartum anxiety as I did before. This can’t be 100% attributed to the placenta pills, but it’s a factor in my postpartum journey this time around.
I was also able to avoid pain medication for the extremely painful afterpains that come with having a subsequent child. Overall I’m impressed with my own experience with placenta encapsulation and here are some of the benefits I’m experiencing (with studies to back them up):
1.) It can potentially reduce or stop postpartum bleeding. – A study done by Peter Homes suggests that consuming the placenta may “reduce or stop postpartum bleeding, speed up recovery, (and) boost energy”(1993).
2.) Reduce or prevent postpartum blues. – According to a study by the National Institute of Health, the placenta secretes CRH during the last trimester of pregnancy which is an aid to the hypothalamus (the area of the brain which handles our hormones). After birth some women have lower than ideal CRH which leads to postpartum depression, but consuming the placenta helps raise these levels therefore combating the postpartum depression.
3.) Boost milk production. – According to one Harvard University study, “the maternal ingestion of dried placenta tissue so stimulates the tissues of the infants feeding on the milk produced during this time, that unit weight is able to add on greater increments of matter, from day to day, than can unit weight of infants feeding on milk from mothers not ingesting this substance”(Hammet). Also, a separate study by Bensky and Gamble found that “Powdered Placenta Hominis was used for 57 cases of insufficient lactation. Within 4 days, 48 women had markedly increased milk production, with the remainder following suit over the next three days”(1997).
4.) Enhance quality of milk. – According to the American Journal of Obstetrics, “It has been shown that the feeding of desiccated placenta to women during the first eleven days after parturition causes an increase in the protein and lactose percent of the milk”(Mcneill).
5.) Provide pain relief of postpartum related pains. – A neuroscientist from the University of Buffalo cites the ingestion of placenta and amniotic fluid “provokes an increase in mother-infant interaction, for instance, and increases the effects of pregnancy-mediated analgesia in the delivering mother. It also potentiates opioid circuits in the maternal brain that facilitate the onset of caretaking behavior, and suppresses postpartum pseudopregnancy, thereby increasing the possibilities for fertilization” (2012).
6.) Provides beneficial hormones, vitamins and proteins (from placentawise.com):
- Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone: Contributes to mammary gland development in preparation for lactation; stabilizes postpartum mood; regulates post-birth uterine cramping; decreases depression; normalizes and stimulates libido.
- Prolactin: Promotes lactation; increases milk supply; enhances the mothering instinct.
- Oxytocin: Decreases pain and increases bonding in mother and infant; counteracts the production of stress hormones such as Cortisol; greatly reduces postpartum bleeding; enhances the breastfeeding let-down reflex.
- Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF): Stimulates the production of your body’s natural opioids, including endorphins; reduces pain; increases well-being.
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone: Regulates the thyroid gland; boosts energy and supports recovery from stressful events.
- Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH): Low levels of CRH are implicated in postpartum depression. Regulation of CRH helps prevent depression.
- Cortisone: Reduces inflammation and swelling; promotes healing.
- Interferon: Triggers the protective defenses of the immune system to fight infection.
- Prostaglandins: Regulates contractions in the uterus after birth; helps uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. Anti-inflammatory effects.
- Iron: Replenishes maternal iron stores to combat anemia, a common postpartum condition. Increases energy; decreases fatigue and depression.
- Hemoglobin: Oxygen-carrying molecule which provides a boost in energy.
- Urokinase Inhibiting Factor and Factor XIII: stops bleeding and enhances wound healing.
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG): Antibody molecules which support the immune system.
- Human Placental Lactogen (hPL): This hormone has lactogenic and growth-promoting properties; promotes mammary gland growth in preparation for lactation in the mother. It also regulates maternal glucose, protein, and fat levels.
At the end of the day it’s your decision whether you venture into placentophagy or avoid it, but I see no risk in trying (although some may disagree, due to the lack of long term studies on the subject). There are many potential benefits for a new mother from consuming placenta, and it is because of this that I would highly recommend it. If cost is an issue, some placenta encapsulating services may provide sliding scale pricing options or work out a trade for their services. Don’t give up based on the price alone!
Bensky/Gamble. 1997. Materia Medica, Eastland Press, 549.
Hammett, Frederick. S. 1918. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 36. American Society of Biological Chemists, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, original press: Harvard University.
McNeile, Lyle G. 1918. The American journal of obstetrics and diseases of women and children, 77. W.A. Townsend & Adams, original press: University of Michigan.
Homes, Peter. 1993. Jade Remedies, Snow Lotus Press, 352.
University of Buffalo Press Release, March 2012