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I frequent a few parenting forums on the internet and nothing seems to get people talking, these days, like when someone says, “I ate my placenta.” It’s accurate to say that, yet, at the same time, it isn’t. What they really mean is they swallowed it in a pill form. Encapsulating placenta DIY (as in do it yourself at home capsules of baby’s placenta) is the “in” thing to do in the crunchy new mom community. I was slightly skeptical because, well, it sounds a little (or a lot to many people) gross.
Did it really help enough to be worth getting over the ick factor? What exactly does it HELP anyway? Is this something I, as a doula, want to offer my clients? I decided a little research was in order. That’s not always easy to do when it’s a newly emerging trend. Sure, there are blogs that discuss it on the internet, but they are sort of all over the place on whether it really does anything or whether it’s the placebo effect.
Can it Help Balance Hormones Post-Birth?
My research (just general blogs and parenting forums) showed that people believe encapsulating placenta and ingesting it can help with the massive drop in hormone levels after birth. It makes sense because the placenta is rich in concentrated hormones. When you lose your placenta (or, really, the placenta belongs to the baby, not you) after the baby is born, your hormone levels drop significantly. It makes sense that you’d feel “off”.
Some people seem to be affected more drastically than others. Who knows why. I’ve never experienced anything more than just being more weepy (not sad, just things making me cry easily – good and bad things) and a bit touchy (I think that’s sleep deprivation because it didn’t happen with my surrogacy. In fact, I think my kids were glad for the loss of THOSE hormones because I sure was touchy that last month of pregnancy!). I never got full-on depression and I’ve never really struggled with milk supply. So, for me, placenta encapsulation wasn’t really a big priority. I have, however, seen many a mother struggle with mild depression all the way up to severe depression (did you see the news story of the mom who drove her kids into the ocean? Yeah, that’s severe.). If I was prone to postpartum depression and was offered a natural way to combat that, you better believe I’d give it a shot!
Can Placento Incapsulation Help Milk Production During Breast Feeding?
Increased milk production is another big claim of placenta “pills”. Mothers who struggle (or feel that they struggle) with milk production have reported an almost immediate increase in supply when consuming encapsulated placenta. Again, I would guess it’s just a hormonal “balance” thing. And, if you feel better, you tend to be more relaxed and produce more milk. So, that effect may simply be a response to the body relaxing enough to allow milk to more effectively let down. It’s hard to say because I haven’t found any real scientific studies done at this point.
Can Placenta Help Menopause Symptoms?
Finally, and I don’t know how much this one has been tested here in the U.S. simply because placenta encapsulation hasn’t been a “thing” for too many years, the last benefit I’ve seen mentioned is for natural hormone regulation during menopause. Storing pills in the freezer allows you to save them indefinitely. So if you want to give this a shot, go for it! It certainly can’t hurt!
DIY Encapsulating Placenta
After looking into the reported benefits, I decided it was something I wanted to offer in case these benefits turn out to be scientifically proven or even helpful mentally to new moms. Thankfully, at the time, I had a doula client who wanted her placenta encapsulated. She was willing to be my guinea pig (it’s not hard, but time-consuming) and purchased all of the supplies herself (supplies cost around $30 – I bought the fresh produce supplies while she bought the re-useable stuff).
Essentially, without going into too much detail on the 12 hour or so process, you steam and then dehydrate the placenta (using herbs and lemon or lime to diffuse the odor a bit) and then grind it (I’ve had the best luck with a coffee grinder) to a powder. The powder is then put into capsules (I used the Now Foods Vcaps on Amazon and The Capsule Machine Kit on Amazon).
In the end, the DIY placenta capsules looks and function just like vitamins. You should store them in your refrigerator (if you will use them within 6 months) or freezer.
Does it Work?
I’ve encapsulated several placentas now and I don’t always find out whether the clients found it helped them or not. I figure the ones it did help will probably contact me (and they have). No one has come begging for their money back. I’ve had 2 moms tell me they definitely noticed a difference in how they felt postpartum in terms of their mood swings. They felt more “balanced”. One of these women (and another who wasn’t one of those 2) also reported that her milk production was much higher with this baby than her prior baby. Coincidence? Perhaps, but they certainly felt like it did them some good.
Like I said, there isn’t much scientific evidence out there about this yet. Right now, most of it is just something that makes sense. ALL Animals consume their placenta after the birth and many non-American cultures believe in consuming the placenta after birth. If you bury the placenta, it is a FABULOUS natural fertilizer, so that, to me, says something about how nourishing it is.
I believe if DOES help. So much so, in fact, that I kept mine (If you want to keep yours, tell your OB way ahead of time and remind her/him often. The hospital will give it to you in a plastic container, on ice, but you’ll need to get it to a refrigerator or freezer pretty quickly. A few hospitals will store it for you in their refrigerator.) to encapsulate after my surrogate birth (I’m only 5 weeks out. I haven’t done it yet, but I still may. It’s hard to find the time to do my own and, right now, I don’t want to encourage milk production since I’ve stopped pumping for the baby after the parents decided it was too hard on the baby’s tummy to go back and forth between breast milk and formula).
I truly believe that, before using chemicals, the natural route is the way to go. If that doesn’t work, move on and do what you have to do for your sanity (and the sanity of those around you). I imagine that even if you aren’t prone to depression or low milk supply, there’s a reason animals do it. Birth takes a LOT out of you (figuratively and literally). The placenta is full of iron and other nourishment to help the body recover after birth. When you’re tired, a little hormone (and iron rich) boost can certainly only help you push through those first few tough weeks! I say it all of the time, but a healthy mommy is the most important factor in how those first few weeks of life with a newborn go. Taking care of yourself helps you to be in a good place to take care of your baby. Does consuming an encapsulated placenta mean you’ll suddenly not be tired anymore? No. It can’t make your baby sleep longer stretches. But, if you FEEL better, you’ll BE better, for yourself and your baby.