It started simply enough. Last summer, a few weeks after my childhood best friend, Viv, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, she posted this status on Facebook: “So happy I did placenta encapsulation. No postpartum depression and plenty of breast milk!”
I knew what a placenta was, of course, but I wasn’t so sure about encapsulation. When I e-mailed her to ask, Viv explained: “After the mother gives birth, she keeps the placenta and processes it into capsules.” Processing, in this case, meant cutting it into strips and drying them on a dehydrator. (“Just like beef jerky,” she said, making me suppress a gag.) The dried strips are then placed in a food processor and ground into dust, which is measured into medicinal capsules and swallowed just like any other supplement.
Newly pregnant with my third child, I found the idea of placenta encapsulation intriguing but, to be honest, slightly repulsive. Still, anything that could help prevent the depression and low breast milk production I’d experienced after the births of my first two children was worth considering.
I began to read about placenta encapsulation online and, sure enough, hundreds of mothers talked about how consuming their own placenta—in capsules, boiled into soups, blended into drinks, or (gasp!) raw—had helped them.
My sister Kim, a mother of five and a pharmacist who specializes in hormone treatment, explained that many of the postpartum problems women face are caused by a rapid drop in their levels of progesterone and other hormones after giving birth and that the placenta is rich in those hormones. Both my nurse midwife and obstetrician said that while the benefits were unproven, there weren’t any serious risks associated with placenta consumption.
I decided to go for it. My husband was supportive, though he admitted he thought it was a bit gross. And my friends and family had the same look of amusement as they did when I said I planned to give birth naturally. “Okay, but why?” was the most common question I heard after announcing both decisions.
But once I did decide, actually finding someone in my area to do the encapsulation proved harder. Finally, through my doula, I contacted Seanda Bradshaw, also a doula. She charged $150—a small price to pay, considering I’d been ready to take on the task myself—and said I should pack two gallon-size plastic zip top bags and a small cooler in my hospital bag. (I also had to tell the hospital staff not to dispose of the placenta, which they usually do.) Seanda picked up the placenta shortly after my daughter, Lucy, was born, and returned the next day with 160 capsules in two glass jars. (She used the “raw method” and explained that she had sliced it into small pieces and dehydrated it, before grinding the pieces into a reddish-brown powder.) Though excited, I hesitated when I realized I could see the powder inside the capsule. I downed a few quickly, expecting a bloody, metallic taste, but was surprised to find they had no taste at all.
Eventually, I got over my initial hesitation and took the capsules as Seanda prescribed: four per day for the first two weeks, two per day for the next month, and then whenever I needed an energy lift after that. Amazingly, my milk came in by the second day, before I’d even checked out of the hospital. With my other kids, Bo and Rudy, it had taken four or five days before my milk arrived. Even better, two months after giving birth to Lucy, I still haven’t had any signs of postpartum depression and haven’t felt lethargic, like I did after the previous births. In fact, come 7 a.m. every day, I’m up scrambling eggs, checking homework, and packing lunches for the older kids, sometimes while I’m nursing Lucy. That’s an energy level I would have found unfathomable in the days after Bo and Rudy were born.
I’ve already recommended placenta encapsulation to other expecting moms. The science may be unproven, but the cost and risks are low enough that it seems worth trying. Pregnant women who are interested in finding someone to provide encapsulation should ask doulas in their area if they provide the service (many do), check with their doctor or midwife, or ask for a recommendation at health food stores or natural healing establishments.
Talk about it
Would you eat your own placenta, or do you know another mom who has?