I’ve found quite a few people to be a bit confused about the evidence supporting placentaphagy (consumption of one's placenta) over time. Emily Fontes, owner of Seattle Placenta, has been providing encapsultion services for many years in the Greater Seattle Area and I’ve sent many expectant mothers her way in that time. She agreed to answer some questions to give greater insight for people considering this approach.
What do you think is most important for people to know about taking placenta pills?
I think that placenta encapsulation is just one element in terms of creating a better postpartum experience. Most people will spend a lot of time preparing for the birth but not very much time preparing for postpartum. The first weeks after baby is born will be a major upheaval. There are a lot of things you can do to make it easier, like hiring a postpartum doula or having your placenta encapsulated. The key is to set yourself up for success and have a plan for dealing with inevitable struggles.
What are some common misconceptions around placenta encapsulation?
The most common misconception is that taking the placenta pills will be gross. Most of our clients are pleasantly surprised how much of a non-issue it is. We handle all the “icky” part for you in preparing the placenta and deliver everything in a cute little package. Honestly it looks like any other jar of capsules in your cupboard. All you have to do is take the pills with the rest of the supplements you take every day. We even offer colored, flavored capsules so that it’s completely out of sight and out of mind.
How is it done?
The absolute basics of encapsulation are: slice the placenta, dehydrate the slices until they are brittle, grind the dried slices into a powder and put the powder into capsules. Even though the basic premise is simple we actually have a five page protocol document that we follow to make sure everything is done safely and consistently. The whole process takes 16-28 hours depending how the placenta is prepared.
I know the research is not robust-- but do you think it helps with people's moods? What are your clients telling you?
Placenta encapsulation is tricky to study compared to other medications or supplements because every single woman’s pills are different. It is hard to come to concrete conclusions when you can’t control for the contents of the supplement. However we do send every single one of our clients a feedback survey and track their reported benefits and side effects. After 150+ responses I can tell you that our clients are generally very excited with the mood effects. 91% of our clients report at least one of the following mood related benefits: increased energy, better mood, feeling more balanced, less times of weepiness, decreased feelings of sadness or reduced anxiety.
(Melinda's note: Here is a link to a good review of the published literature on placentaphagy)
What are some of the negatives around placenta encapsulation?
I think placenta encapsulation still carries a certain stigma even though it’s become much more mainstream in the last few years. In terms of negative side effects, we also keep statistics from our client surveys on those. About 16% of our clients report side effects with the top being: too much energy and too much breast milk. Only 3% of our clients have reported their side effects were negative enough to stop taking their pills.
When considering who to have do the preparation-- what questions should someone ask?
My top three recommended questions would be: how many placentas have they encapsulated? how many hours of training do they have? how do they disinfect their equipment? The key is finding someone who feels this is their speciality and treats it that level of professionalism instead of just having it be a sideline or a hobby. I co-wrote a pretty thorough article about questions to ask. People might find it to be a helpful guide in their search.