All About Placenta Encapsulation
Eating your placenta is weird! Or is it? In Nanaimo, placenta encapsulation isn’t common and, other than anecdotal studies, there is no scientific evidence that proves its effectiveness. But consuming one’s placenta (placentophagy) has been a practice in many cultures around the world since we started having babies and is widely documented in the animal kingdom. It’s something most people are at least a little curious about, whether through genuine interest or disgust. Below you’ll find some common questions and misconceptions about placentophagy, along with evidence-based responses. Scroll down for all the information you never knew you needed to know about placentas!
Or maybe you’ve already made your choice and you’re ready to contact me.
Placentas & Toxins
“Placentas filter out blood and toxins to the fetus, so you shouldn’t do placenta encapsulation because it contains waste products and stuff that shouldn’t be in your body.”
Actually, that’s a really common misconception! Placentas don’t filter out anything; the mother’s organs do that job, just as they would if she weren’t pregnant. The placenta is basically an extra place for blood to go and drop off oxygen and nutrients on its journey through her body. Think of it like a clean lake, supporting life and delivering vital nutrients. Lakes don’t filter. The earth around them (in this analogy, the mother’s body) does that.
Here’s how it works. Blood from the mother’s body collects in pools all in and around the placenta. The oxygen and nutrients from that blood are absorbed through the walls of the blood vessels in the placenta, and that’s then transferred to the fetus through its own blood, by way of the umbilical cord. It’s an ingenious closed loop designed so that fetal and maternal blood never mix, and there are no waste organs in the placenta (the baby’s digestive system doesn’t usually start kicking in until it’s born, or very late in pregnancy). Fetal waste products are sent into the mother’s system to be eliminated by her organs, making the placenta a clean, lean, life support machine. Pretty amazing, eh? If you’re dying to know more about all the wonderful things the placenta does, here‘s a super entertaining and informative video.
Placentophagy & Cannibalism
“Placenta encapsulation… That’s pretty gross. It’s like cannibalism or something!”
Let’s think about this cannibalism thing for a second. When you cut your finger, for example, your immediate reaction is to put it in your mouth, to stop the bleeding, right? So does that mean you’re a cannibal? What about when you chew your fingernails, or the skin around them? Or when kids eat their boogers?
We knowingly and unknowingly consume our own bodily materials quite often and eating placenta is very different from cannibalism. Placenta comes from within our own bodies. It’s not being taken unwillingly from another person. Nobody has to die for you to eat placenta. Not only that, but if the placenta is encapsulated, it’s simply dehydrated, powdered, and put into capsules. You don’t even have to see the raw placenta if that’s not what you want. Although it is true that the placenta carries some of the fetus’ genetic material, the ethics of eating it are clear.
Placenta encapsulation is certainly not something that is done commonly, or talked about very much. In fact, there are a lot of things that happen before, during, and after birth that we don’t talk enough about. These are things that are completely natural, but that, when they come up in conversation, sometimes elicit an “oh, that’s gross” reaction. It’s human nature to be scared of, or repulsed by, things we don’t understand.
Placenta Encapsulation Safety
“There are no regulations for people who do placenta encapsulation, so you have no way of knowing if they’re following safety protocol. Most of them just do it in their kitchen while they cook dinner, and nothing can be properly sanitized.”
It’s true that there are very few regulations placed on those who prepare placenta. That’s why it’s tremendously important for those seeking placenta services to do their research, interview different providers, and choose the person who gives them the most confidence in the safety of their practices. A good training program goes a long way to ensure that your placenta is in the right hands and will be prepared safely, while preserving its nutrients. I am trained with The Association of Placenta Preparation Arts (APPA), which offers the most comprehensive and safety-focused training available. I receive continuing education from APPA to keep my knowledge and skills up to date. APPA’s standards of practice are rigorous and in-depth. You can read them here. Training varies widely between placenta encapsulation service providers. Here are some things to ask your preparation provider to see if s/he is following correct safety protocol:
- Which cleaning and sanitation protocols do you follow to ensure protection against infectious disease?
- What is your knowledge/training of blood borne pathogens and/or food safety?
- How often do you update your training on blood born pathogens, if at all?
- Do you have equipment used solely for your placenta practice?
- How do you prepare the placenta; can you give me a vague idea of your process?
There are so many more things to say about this topic; let’s chat about what you can expect from a professional placenta preparation specialist to ensure your health is their priority!
The Research on Placentophagy
“The benefits are just placebo effects.”
The benefits of placenta encapsulation have not been proven by research and only anecdotal information is available. And I have a few theories about why that is. One reason is that there’s very little profit to be gained. Why research something that is cheap to make and impossible to patent? Another reason it’s hard to study is that it isn’t a common practice. Getting a large sample size would be tricky and longitudinal studies would have their own set of obstacles to overcome. It’s also difficult to study the effects because there are so many variables to control for: different preparations of the placenta, different pregnancies, different lifestyles, etc.
In a survey of almost 200 mothers who consumed their baby’s placenta, most report positive outcomes and would choose placentophagy after subsequent pregnancies. I value evidence-based information and refuse to make claims about the benefits of placenta encapsulation without studies that meet my standards. So why do I offer it? I understand why people want to encapsulate their placentas. It’s relatively low-cost and the only potential downside is an unsafe encapsulation specialist. THAT is why I provide this service. I want to make sure my clients are getting the highest quality placenta encapsulation possible, with the lowest risk to them and their babies.
Selander, J.; Cantor, A.; Young, S. M., & Benyshek, D. C. (2013). Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated with Placenta Consumption. Ecology of food and nutrition, 52(2), 93-115.
More About Placenta Encapsulation!
Curious about learning more? Here are some common questions:
What does it taste like?
Depending on the type of preparation you choose, you don’t have to taste much of anything. Some people find there’s a mild taste when taking capsules, but that’s undetectable if you take them with some juice.
What are the capsules made out of? I don’t eat gelatin.
The capsules I use are made out of a vegan-friendly plant cellulose.
Where is the placenta prepared and how do I know mine hasn’t been mixed up with someone else’s?
The placenta is either prepared in my dedicated space or in your own home (I come with my own equipment and prep your placenta in-situ, taking two hours each day over a two-day period). I only prepare one placenta at a time, from start to finish. Each stage of preparation is documented and my space is completely sanitized between placentas, ensuring zero cross contamination. Disposable products, as well as hospital-grade sterilization equipment, are used wherever possible. I can proudly say that my training association’s standards are the highest in the industry.
Why isn’t placentophagy more culturally acceptable?
In our society, eating organ meats is pretty far out there. And so is consuming one’s own placenta. But you don’t have to do much digging to find other cultures who revere and respect the placenta. Some, like the Icelandic, believe the placenta to be the very seat of the soul.
Can someone still encapsulate their placenta if there’s meconium? Or if it was a cesarean birth, an induced labour, or there are other interventions?
Usually, yes! It’s rare that the placenta is not a good candidate for encapsulation. Meconium is harmful for a baby to aspirate, but because it doesn’t contain fecal bacteria, it’s not harmful to consume the very small amount that would be present after the placenta is rinsed.
If your curiosity still isn’t satiated, send me a message! I’m always happy to chat about placenta stuff.
For more information about cultural beliefs around the placenta, have a look at the fascinating article, Placenta in Lore and Legend by E. Croft Long, PhD., Associate Professor of Physiology, Duke University Medical Center.