Placenta encapsulation is something I had never heard of until I fell pregnant with my second child, and I immersed myself in reading and research about natural birthing and baby care. During that process, I happened across a few articles and blog posts about placenta encapsulation and was immediately enthralled by the idea. A few Alternative Mama followers have expressed an interest in placenta encapsulation, so I thought I would post about our experience. Many believe that placenta encapsulation must be carried out by a professional, and while there are many companies out there who will encapsulate your placenta for you, it is far cheaper to do it yourself. However, some doulas and independent midwives also offer placenta encapsulation as an extra service, and may charge much less than a placenta specialist (or they may do it for free), so it’s worth asking.
Why did we encapsulate placenta?
Consuming the placenta is said to have many benefits, namely helping with the baby blues and possibly preventing the onset of postnatal depression/post-partum depression. Eating it raw is the most beneficial way of consuming it, but a more popular way is by encapsulation – this is when the placenta is dehydrated, powdered and put into capsules for the mother to take. It sounded like the perfect option for someone like me – I desperately wanted to benefit from my placenta, but I just couldn’t bring myself to chow down on it sushi-style.
The ‘baby blues’ is a condition that most women suffer from after the birth of their babies. It is said to be caused by the rapid drop in hormone levels, exhaustion from labour and occasionally by anaemia if the mama lost a lot of blood during the birth. Advocates of placenta encapsulation say that consuming the placenta helps put back everything the mama has lost, therefore helping her recover quicker after the birth and hopefully avoiding the baby blues altogether. Anaemia alone is a common cause of low mood, so it makes sense that eating something as iron-rich as a placenta would help.
I suffered from quite severe baby blues after the birth of my first son. It never really went away, and quickly developed into full-blown postnatal depression. The first few months of his life were very difficult; hellish at times, even. I was very concerned about the same thing happening again, and was willing to try anything to stop it. So, we decided that we would encapsulate my placenta after Squish’s birth.
There are several companies around that will send someone to your house to encapsulate your placenta. This sounded tempting, as it has to be done so soon after the birth and I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to do it myself. However, it does cost a fair bit so my husband volunteered to do the majority of it himself!
How did we encapsulate placenta?
I have to take a moment to apologise about the fact that we have no photographic evidence! I am still mentally kicking myself 6 months on about the fact that neither of us thought to take step-by-step pictures… sigh. So I’m afraid you’ll have to rely on my graphic, step-by-step explanation instead. I have, however, taken a picture of the remaining placenta capsules I have.
Now; you are supposed to do all of this within 48 hours of the birth, so that you can start taking the pills as soon as possible to ward off the onset of the baby blues. However, it took us a lot longer than expected. I started taking the pills on day 4 after Squish’s birth, and still found them to be very helpful.
Gave birth to the placenta (only took 10 minutes!). We popped it into a glass casserole dish and when our midwife checked it over we asked her if it was suitable for consumption – she said it was fine. We put the lid on the dish and put it in the fridge.
This was the only really gory step – washing all the blood off. We put it in a colander in the sink and admired it for a while – placentas really are incredible to look at. Kicking myself SO HARD for having not taken any pictures! Meh. Anyway, moving on. We rinsed it clean, every so often giving it a poke with a skewer to drain off any blood left inside. Once we were satisfied that it was clean, we cut off the umbilical cord at the base. It was really tough so we kind of had to saw it off with a bread knife. Watch out, it spurts!
After a last quick rinse, we started the steaming process. Into my saucepan steamer the placenta went for 15 minutes each side, just enough to cook it through. Steaming depletes some of the nutrients so you don’t want to do it any more than necessary. Some people choose to steam it with garlic and ginger added (as per traditional Chinese medicine) but we decided not to. I found it interesting how much the placenta shrunk during the cooking process. It went from being as big as the bottom of our casserole dish to about half the size.
The smell is a very interesting one. It’s pungent, but doesn’t smell bad. Our kitchen smelled of placenta for about 3 days in total. I have read that women are generally more tolerant of the smell of placenta, and that was true for us. It didn’t bother me at all, but my husband found it to be somewhat overpowering.
After steaming, we sliced it into very, very thin slices. They have to be really thin or they won’t dehydrate properly. We lay the placenta slices onto baking trays (we also put tinfoil on the baking trays first but that’s a matter of preference) – we used two in total and there was space left over.
It was time to dehydrate that bad boy. We don’t have a dehydrator so we used the oven method – lowest temperature, long time.
Now, this was only supposed to take 6-8 hours. However, we didn’t realise that the lowest setting on our oven wasn’t actually warm –at all–. The lowest setting on our oven was literally just enough to turn the fan on. After about 7 hours we realised that nothing much was happening, so we turned it up a few degrees. Now we were getting somewhere! 14 long and smelly hours later we finally had what could be described as placenta jerky.
The next step was to powder it. This is no mean feat – placenta jerky is HARD. Now, some people believe that you shouldn’t use mechanical means to do this, because it messes up the placenta’s energy. However, it had already taken us way longer than planned to get this far so we turned our back on the pestle and mortar and used our blender instead.
It still took a while. Our blender isn’t really all that good, so we could only do one or two chunks at a time. However eventually we managed to get a fairly uniform powder with just a few larger lumps in there.
Now it was time to get the powder into the capsules – 200 vegetarian capsules in size 00. Lots of people just use a piece of paper to scoop it up and pour it in, but we had bought a little capsule machine for the purpose. It only cost just under $16 and it was so worth the money as we could fill 24 capsules in just a couple of minutes.
My placenta, although it was an average size, filled all 200 of those capsules with a little left over (we just sprinkled the remains on the garden).
And that was it! All done. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a huge pain in the ass to do all of that within a couple days of having a baby, because it really was. Having said that, I am so glad that we did it and I found the capsules really helped me recover after the birth. My baby blues were very mild and I’ve had no trace of depression whatsoever. I read that the recommended dose is two capsules, three times per day. In all honesty, I forgot to take that many most days and it still really helped. I took them for about three weeks after the birth, and I still have a ton left over that I plan to take to help with my PMS when my periods eventually return.
Of course, there were many contributing factors to my depression the first time around, and I have no idea whether or not I would have suffered this time had I not eaten my placenta. However, I would still do it again – although next time I will save up and pay for someone else to do it for us! We’ve experienced it once and it was great, but it certainly wasn’t what I wanted us to be doing in those first precious few days with our newborn.
I hope this has been helpful to somebody! Please feel free to comment with any questions you may have, and of course to share your opinions and experiences of placenta consumption!