I first heard about placenta encapsulation on the TV show Keeping up with the Kardashians (don’t judge me! The TV at my gym was stuck on that channel!). After reading up about it, my thoughts were that the placenta provides all the nutrients to nourish and grow a tiny zygote into a baby, so isn’t it a waste for all that goodness to be discarded immediately afterwards? Certain tribal cultures apparently eat the placenta raw, as it is supposed to help kick-start lactation and the healing process for a new mother.
Placenta encapsulation – when it is dehydrated and then ground and put into capsules to be swallowed with water – is a more palatable alternative and harnesses the same benefits, while further benefits can be gained by adding organic herbs and natural aromats like lemon and ginger into the encapsulation. My husband’s reaction to the idea? Well, he says life with me is like being married to the old celebrity fortune teller Mystic Meg! Suffice to say, what with my penchant for exploring Reiki, meditation and holistic medicine, he wasn’t surprised when I told him I want to try placenta encapsulation.
“The process itself was fuss-free: I carried a large tupperware container into the labour room. The midwives knew exactly what to do, and when I had delivered the placenta they simply placed it and the umbilical cord in that box, which I handed over to my encapsulation practitioner once I was out. Within three days I received a big jar of pills, along with the dehydrated cord as a keepsake (which was a surprise!) and I was also told she was fermenting a tincture for me with nutrients from my placenta, which could be used as a healing agent and pick-me-up for baby and me any time we needed it!
I decided to save the bulk of my pills for later in the postpartum period to control the hair loss and water retention that I had suffered a few months after my first pregnancy. I took four to six pills per day in the first week and now three months later I am down to two a day as and when required. They smell like lemony shark fin powder, and taste really dense, and full of iron. Weird, I know, but the best way I can think to describe it!
Don’t be fooled by their moderate size, those pills are magic! I didn’t suffer the baby blues or tiredness in the initial weeks, when in fact I had assumed this time would be worse because I didn’t have a normal delivery and had to go in for a C-section.
With my first baby I suffered mastitis and had an awful time getting used to nursing. I recall the first eight weeks being hellish! This time around, breastfeeding has been a breeze. I am full of energy, have gone back to both working part time and my regular yoga routine four weeks after my caesarean! I have also noticed that the hair loss and water retention have been much more manageable. Last time the water retention was so bad. I recall sporting the chipmunk look for several months post-baby, but this time I had my jawline back within weeks! I’m convinced all of this is largely due to the pills.
Read more: 'What REALLY happens to your body after childbirth'
A lot of people find the idea of eating the placenta off-putting – but if you really think about it, we should probably be put off by all the trash we put into our bodies in the form of processed convenience foods and synthetic medications. The placenta is all natural and all you. Isn’t it gratifying to know that what your body needs to heal from one of the biggest ordeals it can go through, is within you!
Kanika Hughes, chef, nutritionist and co-founder of Leela’s lunches (leelaslunches.com) is mum to Leela, four, and Frank, three months.
Eating your placenta: The pros, the cons, and the evidence
The placenta is the temporary organ that nourishes an unborn baby with nutrients and oxygen and removes waste from the baby while it develops in the uterus. Human placentophagy – when the mother eats the placenta after birth either in the form of dried pills, or after cooking it, whizzing it up in a smoothie or even eating it raw – has been growing hugely in popularity in the developed world in recent years. As well as Kim Kardashian, many other celebrities have spoken about their positive experiences with it, including January Jones, Alicia Silverstone, and even celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall notoriously cooked up a placenta in one of his recipes. But, although many cultures around the world revere the placenta, and it has been used in some traditional Chinese medicines for many years, there is little scientific research regarding the practice either way.
Advocates of human placentophagy claim that the hormones and nutrients it contains can help to ward off postpartum depression,boost iron levels, assist with lactation in the mother, reduce postnatal hair loss and increase energy. There’s also the ‘natural’ argument, as many animals eat their young’s placenta after birth, although obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Maggie Blott says, “Animals eat their placenta to get nutrition – but when people are already well-nourished, there is no benefit to doing it.” Other critics also warn that as one of the placenta’s functions is to remove toxins from the baby, therefore it may contain toxins itself.
The limited scientific data we have regarding human placentophagy shows no evidence for it being harmful nor particularly helpful, although there is lots of anecdotal evidence supporting the practice. A 2016 study by the American College of Nurse Midwives compared the effect on maternal iron levels of ingested placenta versus that of a beef placebo, and found that it neither significantly impairs nor improves the levels. Another 2016 study by the University of Nevada looked at the nutrients and elements in 28 placentas of non-smokers. It found that while there were traces of some good nutrients like selenium and zinc, there was only enough iron in the placenta to have any kind of effect on the human body, and even this would provide just a quarter of the recommended amount for breastfeeding women. It also found that while there were traces of potentially toxic elements like mercury, it was not enough to be in any way harmful. However, a separate publication also by the University of Nevada in 2016 looked at hormone levels in human placenta and the results revealed detectable concentrations of the hormones analysed, some in concentrations that could potentially yield physiological effects. Whether these effects would be positive or negative is yet to be studied. There are currently ongoing studies that should shed some light on this topic in the future. For now, it’s really a personal choice and what feels right for you.
If you are interested in preserving your placenta, you need to make sure you write it in your birth plan. Read more about what the birth plan is and how to write one.
See evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-on-placenta-encapsulation/ for more information.