Warning! If you are easily grossed out, you might want to walk away from this post. Pictures of placentas follow.
As I sat down to write this, the scene from Finding Nemo came to mind where Nemo swam up and touched the forbidden "butt" (boat for those who are not familiar with the movie). The gasps and shock and down-right horror of those watching; I imagine that would be the reaction from many people when they hear about someone working with placentas, even moreso about consuming it. Not me though. I think it is super-uber amazing!!!
Want to touch a placenta?
My dear friend and fellow doula is also a placenta encapsulator (The Dewdrop Doula). While this is a topic that has mildly intrigued me, I became a lot more interested in this organ and topic after she gifted me with my own placenta prints, jewelry, and of course, dehydrated placenta capsules. I had heard about the benefits of consuming one's placenta after the birth but experiencing those benefits was a whole other thing.
Q: What is placenta encapsulation?
A: "Placenta encapsulation is the process of preparing the placenta by steaming, dehydrating, grinding to a fine powder, and placing it into capsules for ingestion."
Q: Why would anyone want to ingest their placenta?
A: "The purpose of ingesting the placenta is to reintroduce beneficial hormones, proteins, and other nutrients to the body following labor and birth to help restore physical and emotional balance. There are a few circumstances where a placenta can not be encapsulated though. Some examples include but are not limited to: infections, improper handling of the placenta, pathology, certain chromosomal abnormalities, and some medications. These placentas are however still eligible for keepsakes such as cord keepsake, placenta print, and jewelry."
On any given day, I struggle with fatigue. Postpartum makes it even worse. I have also had severe postpartum mental health complications after some of my previous pregnancies. This was my last baby and I was willing to do whatever it took, even something so new and "out there" as to consume my placenta, in order to feel good and not go through the hell of postpartum anxiety or worse, psychosis.
She even sent me a picture of my placenta. I really thought it was so amazing! This organ sustain my baby's life for the entirety of his pregnancy. It was huge and healthy, just like my boy! While making my print, it smeared into this sort of rainbow. That was even more special since this little boy followed my stillborn little girl.
I took my capsules with an open mind, but still skeptical. Just because something is "natural" does not mean that I just believe it. I am skeptical of anything. To my excitement, I did feel a noticeable difference. A girlfriend came over to visit and was shocked at how much difference she could even see in me. "You have more energy AFTER having your baby than you did while you were pregnant!" I did! I felt like I could breathe. My eyelids didn't feel like they had weights hanging from them. I wish there was a way to bottle whatever it was to have that impact so I could take it all the time. Alas, there is only once placenta per baby and when it's gone, that's it. While the energy was great, not having any kind of postpartum mental health complications was a sigh of relief and the greatest benefit of consuming my placenta.
When Heather invited me to come over and participate in an encapsulation for another mom, I was thrilled to be able to. As I am working through my certifications for childbirth education and breastfeeding counselor, placenta anatomy was one of the topics I had just finished going through. Being able to get my hands on a placenta and see with my own eyes what is what would be a priceless opportunity.
Q: What got you [Heather] started doing placenta encapsulation?
A: "I started offering placenta encapsulation in March of 2017. I have always found the placenta to be fascinating and beautiful in its own way. My interest in Placentology began though in 2014 during my own pregnancy. I experienced many scary issues with my placenta which required many visits to a specialist for medical observations. I knew then that I needed to learn and understand as much as i could about the placenta and what we were facing.
After birth I requested to view this 'monster' that had plagued us with havoc from 6 weeks gestation and on. I was shock to find that it was not as I had expected; it perfectly resembled the tree of life. Instead of resentment then, I was so thankful that this organ had work so hard to continue supporting the life of my child. I left the hospital thinking of ways I could help others honor the end to a sometimes challenging journey.
In 2016, my dear friend asked for my help with finding a local placenta encapsulator. I discovered at that time that there were only two. Their prices were fair, but more than their would budget allow. I knew then what my gift to her would be; I became a placenta encapsulator. I signed up and completed extensive training with International Placenta and Postpartum Association (IPPA). I became certified in Biohazard safety, as well as becoming a certified food handler in compliance with OSHA Standards. I became a placenta encapsulator for my friend so that she could not only have her encapsulation done but also safely by someone who was trained and qualified.
After seeing first hand the amazing benefits she received from encapsulation, I knew that I wanted to make this service available to more mothers. Since 2017, I have encapsulated 48 placentas, I have created 150+ placenta prints, and I have made 25 custom keepsake pieces."
I got to Heather's home in time to watch the whole cleaning and set-up process. I was really grateful to see what all she puts into this process. If anyone is considering become an encapsulator, you really need to know how time consuming this is to do it right. For me, that was a good dose of reality that I needed to know. If I ever do pursue this, it won't be anytime soon. I do not have enough hours in a day to tackle something like this.
Before she began the processing, she got to let her inner artist out. She loves doing placenta prints even more than the encapsulation. She was kind enough to let me give printing a try. I have to admit, it is pretty awesome!
Q: What are placenta prints?
A: Edible dyes (synthetic or all-natural) are painted on the placenta. Then, watercolor paper is placed on top and patted down to create a watercolor style impression of the placenta. Some moms choose to frame these and hang in the baby's nursery.
I went into the cooking process expecting it to be a horrible experience. Surprisingly, it was not. I expected this organ to stink terribly but, this one at least, did not. Apparently, what the mother consumes (healthy foods, good quality water, etc.) can impact the health and smell. But when that thing came out of the pot...oh. my. goodness!!! I do not get yuck feeling about much but this brought me to the edge. Too bad no one could get the look on my face on camera.
I think I ruined the possibility of Heather ever eating meatloaf.
Q: Are there any studies that have been done on this to prove/disprove the effectiveness of this practice?
A: Unfortunately, not much has been done in study of placenta consumption. Currently, there are no studies showing benefit or harm to placenta consumption. There is rumor that California may be doing a study in 2020. As of now, the best that we have to go on is history and personal testimonies.
Q: Does cooking the placenta not destroy the beneficial properties that would be found in the placenta?
A: There are various cooking methods used, some even do raw processing. The amount of cooking does impact how much of certain properties are lost. It is best to talk to a certified and experienced encapsulator to go over the different processes and those pros and cons.
I got the job of cutting the placenta up to get it ready for the dehydrator. The next day, a lucky mama got her placenta back in the form of these precious gems. I hope that she too reaps the benefits of the long-practiced art of placenta encapsulation.
There are many more questions that could be addressed. If you want more information, feel free to add those questions in the comment section.
UPDATE: Since posting, Heather found this study: Maternal Placenta Consumption Causes No Harm to Newborns.