When it comes to eating the placenta after birth, most people fall into one of 3 camps:
- "Yes/awesome/amazing/I'm going to do that/I already did that!"
- "Hmm, I've heard of that but don't really know anything about it."
- "WHAT?! NO. PEOPLE DO THAT??"
If you're in the 2nd category, this post is for you!
If you're in the 1st category, you may be interested by a few of the specifics shared here, so keep reading. And if you're in the 3rd category and have any curiosity about this process whatsoever, you might want to stick around for this - no gory photos, we promise!
The process of consuming your placenta after birth (or "placentophagy") has been growing in popularity over the last few years. There have been some celebrities who've popularized the trend, and word is getting out among people of childbearing age that eating the placenta after birth can be a helpful tool for postpartum recovery.
We asked a local Orange County placenta specialist, Amanda Cagle of Your Birth Team, to tell us all about this process - why people do, what the benefits are, and how it all happens. (You may remember Amanda from the post we did a while back on her car seat inspection and education services.) We hope you enjoy learning more about this process as much as we did!
Tell us a bit about yourself, and what led you to become a placenta specialist.
It used to be that when my doula clients said they were having their placenta encapsulated, I responded with "Why?!" with just a hint of disgust. But I kept having all these clients doing it, so I got curious!
I started asking questions of those clients. Multiple times, my clients would actually bring it up on their own at our postpartum visit together. They'd say, "I'm actually feeling really good. I think it's because of these capsules that I'm taking." I would say, "Really? How many do you take a day? What does it feel like?" Most clients would say something along the lines of, "The first couple days I didn't have them. But after the pills were delivered and started taking them, I felt... better." A couple clients told me they had forgotten to take their capsules for a day and wondered why they were so tired. Then they took a dose and feel so much better a couple hours later.
After hearing this so many times, I started wondering about about the people who were providing this service for my clients. I kept hearing stories about my clients having a family member taking their placenta to someone's house, dropping it off, and never meeting them. Once someone was asked to put their loved one's placenta into a fridge in the garage by the encapsulator's husband. I was left with so many questions. How many other people touch the placenta after it's dropped off? How does this whole thing work? It felt like such a haphazard process for handling something that was so vital and important in pregnancy.
I decided to learn this process so I could serve my clients who wanted to keep their placenta in the form of pills. I took two different trainings (one online and one in person), but I was still left feeling that my training wasn't very complete. I decided to do a live walk-through with someone who processes placentas from her home, and she generously demonstrated her process to me so I could really understand how the process works in real life.
I've been serving clients through placenta encapsulation since 2014.
What are the benefits of taking placenta pills? Is it true that eating your placenta can increase your milk supply?
I get questions like this all the time and am always sure to say that there's not a lot of research on this. All the evidence we have is anecdotal, which means that it comes from other people who've experienced encapsulation. Most of the time, people who have had their placenta encapsulated are sharing the information freely and excitedly with other people who are considering it or who have never heard of it. And that ultimately is the best evidence in my opinion! Whether or not research comes out in the next couple years showing that eating your placenta is beneficial or not, what we hear constantly as specialists - and what I heard as a doula to begin with - is that there are several reasons people choose to encapsulate their placenta:
- More energy. The placenta is chock full of hormones and nutrients, including iron. Clients are looking for some of that rich nutrition to boost their bodies during the day, especially when they'll be more tired than usual. Life with a newborn involves big changes to sleep and daily routines. A lot of parents feel that in anticipation of that tiredness they want to stack the deck in their favor and do everything they can to make sure they're feeling well physically.
Most of my clients are people who take great amounts of care for themselves. They take vitamins or supplements, they exercise regularly, they try to eat foods that are healthiest for them, those sorts of things. They're actively looking for ways to improve their health long-term and to keep their overall immune system up, and they feel that taking their placenta after birth will be helpful in that regard.
- Improved mood is the second reason I usually hear from people who want to have their placenta encapsulated. Most expecting parents have either heard stories about postpartum mood disorders or experienced it themselves. From a week or two of feeling "down" and extra emotional (baby blues) to more severe forms of postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, parents want to avoid these things if they can - not only for their benefit, but for their babies and their families. My clients usually feel that if the contents of the placenta can help minimize or eliminate these mood issues, why not give it a shot?
- Increased milk supply is definitely a benefit that some parents experience from taking their placenta pills. It's interesting though - some people say their supply increased exponentially, some didn't see an effect one way or the other, and in rare cases one or two of my clients have reported that they actually felt that taking their placenta decreased their milk supply.
All of those experiences make sense to me because everyone's body is different and every placenta is different. So it makes sense that the experience of consuming the placenta can be different for everyone in this regard. But with that in mind, about 60-70% of my clients tell me that when they take an extra pill each day, they immediately see a difference in supply and are able to pump more, get some milk stored (especially in preparation for going back to work), those kinds of things.
Of course, it's possible for placenta pills to cause undesired effects on the body. If you experience anything like that, you can simply stop taking the pills.
Is it safe to consume placenta? Are there any risks?
There are risks to consuming anything! Even the most benign looking organic produce from your local farmer's market can contain harmful bacteria or microbial organisms that can cause disease.
With that said, there are definitely risks and we do everything we can to minimize or eliminate those risks. The biggest risk of consuming any sort of meat product is keeping it safely stored before processing, and heating it thoroughly so that anything harmful to your body will be killed during preparation.
The important thing here is handling. Handling any piece of meat - including human placenta - needs to be done as safely and cautiously as possible. The people handling the placenta should always be wearing gloves, and it's best to ensure that the placenta is touched by the least number of people possible.
Proper storage is very important too. If the placenta is going to be stored out of sight, particularly in a hospital setting, it's important that it be in a refrigerator specifically for placenta storage. And of course it should be kept separate from other placentas and labeled correctly!
Placentas should also be kept separately from food products. Some specialists will put a client's placenta in a cooler in their refrigerator with other food. But other placenta specialists (like myself) aren't comfortable with that, so they have a special refrigerator just for placentas, and only take one placenta at a time so there is no chance of mix-up.
The degree to which your placenta specialist takes these precautions completely depends on their own practice, since it is not a statewide or nationally regulated process. This can be problematic, and there have been cases where harmful bacteria was not killed because the placenta was not heated properly. The biggest takeaway is making sure that the placenta encapsulator is using FDA standards for meat products.
Another potential risk is encapsulating a placenta that has been contaminated in some other way. If a placenta has been stored by the hospital and treated by the pathology staff with formaldehyde, it is not safe to consume. Hopefully a hospital wouldn't release a placenta that had been treated with formaldehyde, but it has happened before.
The other major risk to consider (and one of the biggest contraindications for consuming a placenta postpartum) is infection in the mother during labor that was not treated with antibiotics.
Is it true that all other mammals eat their placentas?
No! That is a common misconception.
We don't have an answer as to why some mammals eat their placentas and others don't. Some people theorize that animals eat their placenta for the nutritional content - though they would be eating it raw, so they would have a whole different level of nutrient and hormone content than an encapsulated placenta would have. Another theory is that some mammals eat their placentas to keep predators away, which could make sense because the scent of blood and amniotic fluid in addition to the sound of a newborn could definitely lead predators toward prey.
There are people who argue that since other animals do this it's natural for humans to do it too. But they aren't taking into account the fact that other mammals have different gut flora, different (or multiple) stomach systems, and other biological differences, so we can't make the decision to encapsulate based only on the fact that some other mammals eat their placentas.
I always encourage my clients to make the decision to encapsulate based on their own body and their own needs, not those of any other mammal (human or otherwise!).
Can you describe the process of encapsulation? How long does it take?
- Once we pick up a placenta, we immediately begin processing it.
- We wash the placenta and check it for signs of infection that may have been missed by the birthing facility or care providers. If there is any meconium, we rinse it off with a vinegar rinse.
- We separate the amniotic sac from the rest of the placenta and make a keepsake print of the placenta and umbilical cord. We then separate the umbilical cord from the rest of the placenta, and can make an umbilical cord keepsake if desired.
- We start slicing the placenta into very thin slices (think really thin flank steak) and those slices go onto parchment paper. The papers with placenta slices are placed onto dehydrator plates. We space everything out to make sure there is enough air circulating through the dehydrator.
- We set the temperature on the dehydrator to 160 degrees and the placenta is dehydrated for at least 12-18 hours, depending on its size and shape.
- To make sure the placenta is completely dry, we try breaking or cracking a piece. If it doesn't crack easily indicating there is still moisture present, we give it some extra time in the dehydrator. We try to make sure there is absolutely no moisture left before the next step.
- Once dehydrated, we use a Magic Bullet to grind the placenta into a fine powder.
- Then it's a painstaking process of putting the powder into capsules. Sometimes there are as many as 120 or 140 capsules, so it takes a while! This is usually the most labor-intensive part of the process.
- Once the capsules are finished, we place them in a jar and deliver the package to the client's home.
Our goal for a quick return of the placenta is to have it back to our clients within 24-48 hours.
What is typical policy at local birth facilities around taking placentas home?
Most hospitals in our area allow for placentas to be taken home relatively quickly (within 2 days of birth). Here are a few other specific policies for Orange County birth facilities:
- Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach has a 24 hour wait time to make sure no signs of infection develop in the first day after birth. After the 24 hours are up, the placenta specialist can come to the hospital directly to pick up the placenta as long as the parents have signed a release form.
- Kaiser Irvine, Kaiser Anaheim, St. Joseph in Orange, Mission Hospital, Fountain Valley Regional, UCI, South Coast Midwifery birth center, and Beach Cities birth centers: Immediate release policy, meaning the placenta needs to be off the property immediately, usually within an hour of birth. These policies are in place because some birth facilities don't want liability over storing and keeping your placenta healthy. If you give birth in the middle of the night, your placenta specialist can't come to you immediately so you should be prepared to store your placenta in an ice chest with fresh ice for the time being. It's safe to store your placenta that way (with fresh ice) for up to 24 hours if needed.
- Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills holds onto placentas until the parents are released from the hospital. Unfortunately that means we can't start processing the placenta until 2-4 days after birth, which means a client won't be able to start taking their pills until sometimes a week after birth.
What options does someone have if they want to hire you for placenta preparation?
In our practice, we try to give clients the maximum number of options possible so they feel completely comfortable and confident with their placenta's preparation.
There are two methods of preparing a placenta for consumption that are most commonly used: the steamed method and the raw method (which is not what it sounds like).
- The steamed method is based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine method of placenta dehydration. The placenta is steamed for a number of minutes before it is ever sliced or dehydrated. During steaming, it can be infused with herbs. In our practice we don't prescribe herbs, so our clients who choose to have their placenta steamed before being dehydrated provide their own herbs, usually working with a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, acupuncturist, or herbalist.
- The raw method means that the placenta is put into the dehydrator without being steamed first. But the dehydrator is still set to 160 degrees and the placenta is still heated thoroughly.
Some people ask what the benefit is of steamed vs raw. The steamed method is really all about the infusion process. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the thought is that you are returning heat or energy (qi or chi) to the body. There are some people who say the steamed method is safer because of the additional chance of killing bacteria, although others may counter that with the fact that in that process you lose some of the nutritional content. Unless you are planning to infuse your placenta with herbs, we normally recommend the raw option which also yields more capsules.
- Smoothie cubes, which are raw placenta (actually raw this time) are only available for clients with no signs of infection at the time of birth. You get 2 smoothie cube trays. The cubes are made with frozen fruits - you can't taste the placenta! Clients love it for the extra pick-me-up in those first few weeks after birth.
- We also offer salves or body balms, where dehydrated placenta has been added to a gentle, organic salve base including coconut oil, shea butter, vitamin E oil, and beeswax. This creates a smooth, healing body butter that's great for everything from sore nipples to diaper rash to Cesarean scar healing.
- We also offer a tincture, which is the best long-term solution for placenta encapsulation as an add on. It's a raw piece of placenta that's fermented over many weeks in 100 proof alcohol, creating a shelf-stable essence. Tinctures are used worldwide to store medicine and herbs.
We can do all of this in clients' homes, or in our own at-home placenta preparation space (not our kitchen!). If we're doing it in the client's home, it takes two separate visits so it takes a little longer (and scheduling can sometimes be a bit challenging), but we're happy to offer that option.
On average, how many placentas do you process each month?
We book a maximum of 5 placenta clients per month. This reduces the chance of overlap, which would result in a delay in service. We want you to have your placenta capsules ASAP so you can start benefiting from them!
Some specialists process as many as 10-12 placentas per month, but I prefer to take my time to make sure that everything is handled as safely and carefully as possible.
Only one placenta is allowed in our workspace at a time. This strict policy is in place so there is no risk of cross contamination between placentas.
If someone isn't sure they want to encapsulate their placenta, can they keep it in their freezer and decide later?
Technically, yes. But the best time to process a placenta is as early as possible as they can get freezer burned if not stored properly. Anytime we freeze any food (including a raw placenta) it can lose its nutrient content over time. The max time recommended to freeze any meat in a normal household freezer is 5-6 months, so we recommend deciding by 2-3 months of your baby's life, just to be on the safe side.
What's your favorite thing about preparing placentas?
Making the placenta prints! I think they're amazing and make for a really special keepsake. Each one is so unique - almost like your baby's first fingerprint! Clients can paint on the print if they want to, take a picture and keep it forever, or even frame the print. I love seeing that every placenta is different - it's a great reminder that every parent and baby are different too.
How much does your placenta encapsulation service cost?
Encapsulation only is $250 and each add-on is an additional $25. If you decide you want everything, encapsulation plus all three add-ons are $300.
If you want to book placenta encapsulation services, you can book online here.
When you inquire, ask me how you can get a 10% discount on placenta encapsulation services!
Amanda's contact information
Your Birth Team