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What is Placenta Encapsulation?

We've heard from many of you about your experiences with placenta encapsulation. Several of you expressed the positive impact the pills had on mood, energy and milk supply. We couldn't find much information in the medical literature. We did find out that the University of Las Vegas will be publishing the results of one of the first human studies on placentophagy (the science term for ingesting placenta) later this year. We will share the results when they are released. To learn more about this practice, we reached out to Anne Ferguson, the founder of Minnesota Placenta

You can see a video of our interview with Anne here.

Please share your experience in the comments below.

What is placenta encapsulation? How does it work?

Placenta encapsulation is the process of taking a placenta after a mom gives birth and turning it into capsules for her consumption. There are two methods of preparation. The first is called the Traditional Method and is based on Chinese Medicine principles. The placenta is steamed, sliced, dried for 10-12 hours in a dehydrator and then ground into a powder and put into capsules. The other, which we call the "Raw Start" method, skips the steaming step but the rest of the process is the same. Moms can research these two methods and decide which one resonates more with her, or pick half of each if she wants to try out both methods!

What are some of the benefits women report? Can anything negative happen?

With both methods moms report higher energy levels than they expected to have after giving birth. Moms often choose encapsulation to help avoid postpartum mood disorders and report feeling happier after having a new baby. It also seems to help with milk supply perhaps from the high iron content and moms report less postpartum bleeding. The raw start method seems to have an even bigger impact on milk supply and energy levels, which sometimes causes issues if a mom has an oversupply of milk or has a hard time sleeping.

There are no known side effects but if the placenta isn't stored properly after the birth (refrigerated or in a cooler with ice until the placenta specialist can get there) then it could go bad and get mom sick. The biggest complaint I've heard is that the capsules have a meaty smell and taste that some moms find difficult to take. I tell moms they can be prepared to chase the capsules with something sweet if they are worried about this. It's not unlike taking some other vitamin or supplement that has a gross taste, it's worth it!

What should someone know who is thinking about having their placenta encapsulated?

The longer I've been doing this, the more strongly I feel that women need to select their provider carefully. There are dozens and dozens of people in the Twin Cities providing this service, but many have little training. Other encapsulators call me all the time with questions and I've been shocked to hear some stories about mistakes they made or precautions they didn't take. I've learned how to improve my own process over time and I'm certified by APPA, which has gone to great lengths to work with experts in the area of blood borne pathogens to make sure this process is as safe as possible, both for clients and for me.

What are some of the big misconceptions you frequently hear about placenta encapsulation?

When people hear about encapsulation for the first time, the reaction is almost always the same... gross! But then people do just a little research and come to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh any potential risks. Luckily we handle the gross part for our clients.

There is also a lot of debate in the lactation world about whether or not taking placenta capsules really improves milk supply or actually hinders it. After birth if some placenta is retained in the uterus the body thinks it is still pregnant and may not shift into milk making mode, potentially leading to milk supply challenges. But, that is very different from a mom taking her capsules, which do contain pregnancy hormones, through the digestive system. It also just hasn't been the feedback I've received from my 350+ clients. In a small survey I did of 68 of my own clients a few years ago, 63% reported an average milk supply, 29% reported an oversupply and only 6% reported low supply. That's 92% who reported a good or high supply. For me the proof is in the results that moms are experiencing. Of course just taking placenta capsules doesn't guarantee a good milk supply and I try to talk to moms I'm working with who've experienced low supply in the past to make sure they are doing all the right things to encourage a good supply, like tons of breastfeeding and skin to skin in the first 2-3 weeks of their baby's life.

What research has been done on the efficacy of placenta ingestion?

There is very little human research on placenta ingestion that is current. We are waiting for the results of a study out of the University of Las Vegas that will hopefully be released this year. It is the first human placenta vs. placebo study I'm aware of. There is also no research showing that encapsulation doesn't work or has any risks.

What predictions do you have for the future of placenta encapsulation?

In the last five years this process has gone from being in the shadows to very mainstream. At some hospitals, nurses ask moms if they are going to save their placenta. All metro area hospitals are familiar with the request to save the placenta and will release it to patients, unless it becomes infected or needs to go to pathology. We get all types of moms contacting us for this process, especially a lot of moms who are having planned cesareans. I expect this trend to continue as more and more expectant parents find out about encapsulation and want to try it for themselves.

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