Placenta Encapsulation has been a topic of great discussion for the last decade or so. More and more moms are choosing to have it done and many are experiencing the tremendous health benefits.
Recently, however, the birth community at large has created an uproar surrounding placenta encapsulation. This is because many insist that their way of doing it is the best way and only way. It has created a shameful and unnecessary division among birth professionals, who seem to be losing sight of the main goal of birth and postpartum work: a woman’s choice.
The conflict does not surround the benefits of placenta encapsulation. We all agree on that. Rather, some placenta encapsulators insist that their methodology is the only acceptable one.
Their way goes like this:
That is all. I and many others in the birth profession have a few problems with insisting on these methods as the only safe and acceptable ones.
Most importantly, as I mentioned, the client gets no choices in the matter. If she does not want it processed in her home, regardless of her reasoning, that’s too bad.
Length of Time
Most moms stay at the hospital for a day or two after giving birth. If a woman has had a cesarean, she may stay for 4 or 5 days. During that time, the placenta is being stored by the hospital for her to take home. The fact that a placenta remains at the hospital while the mom is staying in a mother-baby unit does not guarantee it’s being handled safely or properly.
Most hospitals see a placenta as medical waste, and they do not always have systems in place for storing, labeling, and preserving a placenta that someone wants to be processed. Having a placenta encapsulator pick up the placenta soon after birth ensures that it is going to be handled and processed quickly.
In addition, the longer a placenta sits unprocessed, the greater the risk of contamination, spoiling, or mishandling becomes. The safest option for producing a quality product is to process it as soon as possible. I’ve heard stories of women learning after the fact that their placenta was mislabeled, and therefore they didn’t even know it was theirs! In another situation, a woman’s placenta was being held by the hospital staff for her when it mistakenly got sent to the pathology department. When it came back to her in shreds, she could not encapsulate it.
Placenta encapsulation provides the greatest benefit to women as soon as possible after birth. That means that the longer it goes unprocessed, the longer a woman’s body goes without getting the benefits that are critical in helping women manage those first several days.
Conversely, a placenta encapsulator can pick the placenta up soon after birth and have placenta pills processed and delivered the day after birth when the mom’s hormones are at their greatest need for stabilization. She can have her placenta pills even before she leaves the hospital.
What if a client does not want the placenta processed in her home? There are plenty of valid reasons that a woman may not want a placenta to be processed in her home. A placenta encapsulator that does not honor those reasons is providing a disservice and a lack of choice to that woman. Most women just want to be left alone at home to rest after birth. What if a woman has a pet that she is concerned will try and eat the placenta as it’s dehydrating? (That has happened!) Furthermore, some women simply may not want the smell in their house and that is fair because even after birth, a woman’s nose is sensitive to smells.
Finally, to claim that the placenta owner’s home is the best place because it can be most sterile is unjustified. I could refute that by claiming that my method is safest because I sterilize equipment by a certified sterile supply technician with steam sterilization in an autoclave when other encapsulators are only trained to disinfect. If you hire a placenta encapsulator to make your placenta pills, you can ask questions in the interview about how they process it, what certifications and methods they use, and how they ensure safety. Just because it’s being done within the client’s home doesn’t mean it’s automatically safer there.
I offer both in the home and in office placenta encapsulation, and I feel that is what gives my clients the most options. In my experience, most choose NOT to have it processed at their home. Still, a few choose to have me do it in their homes, and I am certainly glad to do it that way for them! What’s important is a woman’s CHOICE in the matter. After all, birth professionals all over the world advocate for women’s choice – and they deserve to have that choice extend to their placenta encapsulation options as well.
On The Safety Of Placenta Encapsulation with GBS
Recently, the CDC released a statement regarding the safety of placenta encapsulation. Their determination that placenta encapsulation was unsafe came after a single incident where placenta encapsulation was implicated in a GBS infection in a baby. In this case, it was found that the placenta capsules that the mother had been taking were infected with the same GBS bacteria that the baby was tested positive for.
Rather than review placenta encapsulation processes, learn about the preparation methods used, or consider other means by which the baby could have become ill, the CDC simply stated that encapsulation was likely the culprit and therefore it was unsafe – end of story.
But let’s unpack this.
GBS is a normal, natural bacteria found in the digestive tract. The risk it poses has always been related to the baby’s exposure to it during birth with moms who have high colonization of the bacteria in the birth canal. This is why we test for it at the end of pregnancy around 37 weeks. If a mom is found to have been colonized, she is considered GBS positive status and offered antibiotics as a treatment during birth. Unfortunately, results take 2-3 days to receive and your GBS can easily change by the time labor begins.
The Oregon Case
In the case in question, the mother was tested as being GBS negative at the end of her pregnancy. With symptoms present at the time of birth, the baby was tested positive for GBS infection before the mother received or began taking her placenta pills. The baby had recovered after a course of antibiotics.
The baby got a second GBS infection 5 days later and was admitted to another hospital. It was there that the mother shared she had begun ingesting placenta pills, and the doctor asked to have them cultured.
The culture showed that the GBS bacteria in the baby was the same bacteria that was in the pills. Therefore, they decided that the placenta pills were causing the problem, despite the fact that the baby had contracted a GBS infection of the same bacteria PRIOR to the placenta pills being used. In addition, the mother’s expressed breast milk tested negative for the GBS bacteria.
They state (emphasis mine): “Consumption of contaminated placenta capsules MIGHT HAVE elevated maternal GBS intestinal and skin colonization, facilitating transfer to the infant.”
Mother’s intestinal GBS bacteria colonization would not have affected the baby, since her breast milk was tested negative for the bacteria. There might have been some bacteria on her skin because she touched the pills, but the article does not state whether the hospital lab cultured the outside of the pills or just the inside contents of the capsules.
Furthermore, the baby could have come in contact with the GBS bacteria from anywhere. Though the capsules contained the same GBS bacteria that is found within the mother’s digestive tract, the re-emergence of symptoms in the baby could have been anything – from the child not receiving enough antibiotics to a lack of hand washing.
Either way, correlation does not prove causation in this case. Not even close.
About Placenta Preparation
It is important parents are aware of their options in regards to placenta preparation. First, I should note that when a mother has symptoms of infection, the place of birth should not release the placenta for any reason. Maternal or infant infection is an immediate contraindication of encapsulation.
When an infection is not present – in an otherwise healthy mother – care should be taken when transporting the placenta and processing it. There are two ways to process it: Raw and using the Traditional Chinese Method.
Raw preparation has a high yield of capsules and new preliminary results from testing have shown enzymes and hormones are at the highest concentration. On the other hand, it also has the highest concentration of lingering bacteria.
By contrast, the Traditional Chinese Method uses a steam preparation. It has a lower yield of capsules, and the steam reduces the amount of hormones and enzymes. However, it will also kill a much higher level of bacteria.
It is unclear what method of preparation was used for the Oregon mother whose baby became ill. In any case, parents need to know what their options are, what the risks and benefits are, and how to safely store their placenta pills. If you’d like to discuss placenta preparation methods and pill storage with me, I’m glad to do so.
What we need to remember is that this is ONE case and it hasn’t been connected directly to capsules or the encapsulator. Carefully selecting your encapsulator and the preferred process for your unique birth and needs is important in protecting safety. But safety is a multi-step process with responsibilities in hands of the hospital regarding proper storage and release (or refusal of release), proper food grade preparation methods by the encapsulator, and proper capsule storage by parents.
If you have any questions regarding placenta encapsulation, please contact me!
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“You did WHAT after birth?”
“You ate what?!”
Follow me here – it may not be as crazy as it sounds. Unusual and uncommon? Yes definitely. But perhaps not necessarily “crazy” – once there is a bit of context to frame it. I’m talking about placenta encapsulation.
What is placenta encapsulation? It is the process whereby the placenta is steamed either raw or with herbs, dried, ground into a powder, and put into pills for the mother to consume in the postpartum period.
Most people’s immediate reaction when they hear this is: WHY would someone do that?
Before we get into the specifics of encapsulation, a disclaimer is necessary. There is very little scientific evidence to support any claims made about consuming the placenta in the postpartum period. This is because there has not been much research done. (Who would benefit from such a study?) Rather, it tends to be something that women have chosen to do based on other’s anecdotal experiences, intuition, and their trust in ancient tradition. Women’s claims about its benefits tend to be fairly consistent, and those will be shared here.
That said, let’s talk about the placenta. The placenta is an organ specific to gestation that grows with the baby. It is a fully functional organ that acts as a lifeline from mom to the baby. It takes nutrients, blood, fats, minerals, proteins, hormones and other important building blocks of life from the mother’s body and transfers it safely to the baby for growth and development. It allows for the exchange of nutrients and waste to occur as the baby grows. Toward the end of the pregnancy, the placenta begins to slow its function. Both mom and baby benefit from the nutrition and hormones within the placenta. It primarily sustains the life of the baby, but it also spends a great deal of time communicating with the mother’s biology.
All mammals consume the afterbirth automatically, except for humans. Some have said that this is for survival, so other animals will not track down a vulnerable prey. And yet, there is said to be a biological benefit in it as well. We humans see animals consume the afterbirth and usually respond with some level of revulsion, even though we cognitively know it is completely natural and beneficial for the mother and baby.
Placenta consumption by humans for medical benefit has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Midwives have known of the effectiveness of the placenta in stopping postpartum hemorrhage for centuries. So while it is not an entirely new phenomenon, its practice has dwindled so much in recent years, and physicians simply discard the placenta, so it has become practically unheard of to the point of seeming weird.
Thanks to the age of information, the benefits of placenta encapsulation have been shared by mothers all over the globe in recent decades. Our ability to process it and turn it into capsules and pills has made it seem much less daunting and it greatly reduces the ick factor. They are taken like vitamins.
The reported benefits are many and I’ll mention a couple here. Placenta encapsulation has been reported to support healthy lactation for breastfeeding mothers. Many women who have trouble with milk supply will report that their placenta pills helped them maintain ample milk supply for their baby.
One mother in Colorado shares her story with all who will hear. She says, “After my first birth, my milk dried up at 3 months postpartum with no explanation. My midwife, lactation consultants, and doctors could not figure out what happened. I heard about placenta encapsulation from my doula and midwife and they said that it may help with milk supply. I decided to give it a try with my second baby. I had the placenta processed and kept the pills in case my supply dried up again. Sure enough, around 3 months, my supply began to sharply decline. I started taking the placenta pills. Within 24 hours, my supply was back up. The placenta pills allowed me to breastfeed until he was 9 months old! As soon as I ran out of my placenta pills, my supply dried up almost overnight. I have 5 children, and each subsequent postpartum period has been the exact same. Once my pills are gone, so is my milk. I’m so grateful that my placenta pills were able to help me nurse for another 6 months with each of my children. Even if you aren’t planning to use them right away, no harm can come from having your placenta processed in case you find you could benefit from it.”
Many mothers report feeling much more physically and emotionally stable when they take their postpartum placenta pills, presumably thanks to the hormonal benefit they receive from them. After the baby is born and the placenta is expelled, the mother experiences a dramatic drop in her hormone levels. This can contribute to the baby blues and postpartum depression as the body is desperately trying to reach an equilibrium again, all while being sleep deprived, recovering from birth, and caring for a newborn. Many women who take their placenta will report that they never felt the baby blues. Their hormone levels remain stable as they transition to the postpartum period.
Finally, a common benefit that s reported by mothers who choose placenta encapsulation is increased energy levels. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that after having a baby, a woman is going to be tired. She just accomplished the greatest feat that any human being can do: birth a child. As previously mentioned, her hormone levels are trying to balance and she just lost the huge pile of nutrients she was benefiting from in the placenta. Postpartum women need a lot of replenishing! The placenta is said to be nature’s perfect replenishing tool for women.
Do some research. Talk to your birth doula or your postpartum doula. Ask questions of women who have had it done. As the mother above mentioned, it can’t hurt to have the pills made in case you find you can benefit from them.
Could you benefit from Placenta Pills?