For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has recognized the sacred placenta as a powerful remedy to help mothers heal after birth. Today, many women look to placenta encapsulation as a natural way to balance hormone levels after birth, increase milk supply, feel more energy, and offset the chance of developing postpartum depression and/or anxiety.
Placenta Encapsulation is the process in which after childbirth, the placenta is steamed, dehydrated, and ground into a fine powder that is placed into capsules for consumption by the mother. The capsules look and feel like taking a vitamin.
Postpartum recovery is a joyful, vulnerable, raw, and confusing time. It’s critical for mothers to feel supported and empowered to begin the healing process. This is where many mothers look to placenta encapsulation for help as part of their postpartum recovery plan. Placenta capsules are a natural way to restore what is lost during pregnancy and birth. The placenta contains a woman’s own natural hormones, as well as iron, protein and other nutrients, providing the means to replenish and nourish her body.
Below is an overview of compounds that make up a placenta.
- Iron – The placenta contains a large amount of natural iron. Fatigue, stress, cognitive impairment, and PPD can be related to the existence of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) in women.
- Estrogen – During pregnancy, estrogen helps the uterus grow, increases blood circulation, and regulates progesterone and stimulates thyroid hormones in the body. Estradiol and Estriol are two forms of estrogen that are produced by the placenta, and rise sharply during pregnancy. It is believed that the abrupt decrease in estradiol levels after delivery (reaching pre-pregnancy levels by postpartum day 5) may contribute to the onset of PPD.
- Progesterone – Ensures the placenta functions properly, protects the uterine lining, and stimulates breast tissue. Progesterone is produced by the placenta in pregnancy, and declines rapidly after delivery, signaling the breasts to produce milk.
- CRH (Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone) and Cortisol – These stress relieving hormones are produced by the placenta and rise sharply before delivery to prepare the body for the stress of birth. CRH increases by 3 times in pregnant women, and levels drop rapidly after delivery. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels and maintains normal blood pressure, which is required during times of stress.
- Prolactin – Increases greatly late in pregnancy, and stimulates lactation after birth. Levels decrease three weeks postpartum in non-lactating women. In breast feeding mothers, prolactin will eventually decrease to pre-pregnancy levels.
There have been few formal studies conducted on the effects of placenta encapsulation, making it difficult to scientifically validate the benefits of consuming placenta. There have been smaller studies conducted looking at placenta encapsulation that shows potential benefits. For example, one study surveyed 189 postpartum women who had consumed their placentas. A full 95% of these women reported positive outcomes.
Another study claims that placenta encapsulation offers no health benefits. However, the vast majority of mothers that actually consume placenta capsules have reported positive benefits. The reality is there is no evidence to support the claim of placenta encapsulation advocates, nor is there any conclusive evidence to inform the risks. There simply needs to be more scientific reach conducted.
Capsules are the easiest and most palatable way to consume placenta, but mothers can also incorporate placenta into a liquid tincture, food (like chili or lasagna), smoothies, or eat a small raw piece after delivery. Many women and families choose to retain their placenta after delivery not for consumption, but to plant a tree (or flowers, bush, garden) in honor or memory of their baby, or part of a traditional family practice.
Everyone must decide what is right for their own body and situation. As with every step of the journey into pregnancy and motherhood, it’s up to the mother to find her comfort level and do what works best for her family. Placenta capsules have helped so many women have a smoother postpartum recovery, but it may not be for everyone. And that is ok! For anyone interested in placenta encapsulation, it is important to talk with your doctor, and receive services from a trained, professional encapsulation provider.
- What does the placenta do? How does it work? Watch this great video to learn more
- Read published scientific placenta studies
- 2016 Texas law passed requires any placenta to be released directly to the mother from any hospital or birthing center
Amy Tucker’s experience (and huge challenges) having her own two children ignited her passion for supporting moms during the vulnerable postpartum transition. She suffered severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her first child. It was this difficult experience that shifted her path from working in the corporate world to helping moms throughout their postpartum recovery. She is a certified Placenta Encapsulator, Postpartum Doula, and owner of Mama Peace. She specializes in helping moms struggling with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). Amy volunteers with The Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA) as an Advisory Board Member, Speaker, Educator and Postpartum Doula. Amy lives in Austin with her husband and two children. You can find Amy at Mama Peace.