The consumption of placenta pills, or placentophagy, has become an increasingly popular practice for new mothers in recent years. Proponents claim that ingesting capsules containing dehydrated placenta powder can provide various benefits in the postpartum period, including balancing hormones, increasing milk supply, boosting energy, improving mood, and speeding up recovery.
However, placenta encapsulation remains controversial, with limited scientific research on its efficacy and safety. Many health organizations officially discourage the practice due to concerns over infection risk and lack of proven benefits. This article will provide an in-depth, unbiased look at placenta pills – examining the potential benefits, risks, current research, and key considerations for dosage and safety.
A Brief History of Placentophagy
- The practice of placenta consumption has roots in traditional Chinese medicine, where it was used to replenish qi and blood after childbirth. It is also a traditional practice in some Polynesian and North American cultures.
- In the 1970s, placentophagy saw a resurgence in the United States as part of the natural birth movement. Midwives promoted it as part of holistic maternal care.
- Today, placenta encapsulation has become a popular service offered by doulas and midwives. The placenta is steamed, dehydrated, ground into powder, and put into capsules.
Why Consider Placenta Pills?
Many women are drawn to placenta pills due to reported benefits such as:
- Balancing hormones and avoiding postpartum mood disorders
- Restoring nutrients and iron levels
- Increasing breastmilk production
- Boosting energy and combating fatigue
- Speeding up postpartum recovery
- Reducing postpartum bleeding
- Pain relief
However, these benefits remain scientifically unproven, with research still in early stages. Anecdotal evidence from mothers provides most of the support for placentophagy benefits.
II. Dosage Guidelines
Determining the right placenta pill dosage can be challenging since there are no standardized guidelines. Dosage depends on the processing method and the mother’s individual needs and goals. Here are some general dosage recommendations:
- First 1-2 weeks postpartum: Up to 2 capsules, 3 times per day. This is considered the acute phase where potential benefits may be greatest.
- After first 2 weeks: 1-2 capsules, 1-2 times per day, until pills are finished. The standard time frame for consumption is 4-6 weeks postpartum.
Typical capsule sizes:
- 500mg capsules – Considered average dose
- 1000mg or higher – Provide higher hormone content
Dosage by Body Weight
Some providers recommend dosage based on body weight at a ratio of 10mg per kg of weight:
- For a 60kg woman, 600mg per day (or 3-6 average 500mg capsules)
- For a 80kg woman, 800mg per day (or 4-8 average capsules)
Table 1: Recommended Placenta Pill Dosage by Weight
|Body Weight||Daily Dose|
It is important to listen to your body and adjust dosage as needed. Some situations where dosage may be adjusted include:
- Decreasing dose if side effects occur like headache or nausea
- Increasing dose if milk supply seems low or energy is lagging
- Taking extra doses as needed for pain relief or emotional support
- Reducing dosage after the first 1-2 weeks postpartum
Work closely with your encapsulation specialist to determine the right dosage schedule for your needs and goals. Keep a log to track effects.
III. Potential Benefits of Placenta Pills
While placenta encapsulation is still considered an experimental practice lacking conclusive scientific evidence, many mothers over the years have reported beneficial effects from consuming their placenta postpartum. Here is an overview of the potential benefits:
1. Postpartum Mood Support
- The placenta contains high levels of CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) which is believed to help stabilize mood and emotions after childbirth.
- Small studies have found placenta capsules may help balance hormone fluctuations and reduce risk of postpartum depression/anxiety.
- 86% of mothers surveyed reported an improved mood from taking placenta pills.
2. Increased Energy and Reduced Fatigue
- Iron levels often drop after childbirth. The placenta is rich in iron.
- Placenta also provides thyroid hormones T3 and T4 which help regulate metabolism and energy.
- In one study, over 70% of mothers reported increased energy from placenta capsules.
3. Enhanced Milk Production
- Estrogen levels drop after pregnancy. The placenta contains estrogen which may help stimulate milk production.
- One study found 86% of mothers reported improved lactation after consuming placenta pills.
4. Faster Postpartum Recovery
- The placenta contains high levels of prostaglandins which encourage uterine contractions and may speed up recovery.
- Iron and nutrients in placenta pills may help replace what is lost during childbirth.
- 89% of mothers in one survey reported improved postpartum recovery with placenta encapsulation.
While these benefits are supported by limited research and surveys, thousands of mothers over the years have reported positive effects from placenta pills. More research is still needed to conclusively confirm effects. It remains up to each mother to evaluate the potential benefits vs. risks. Consulting a qualified placenta encapsulation specialist is advised.
IV. Risks and Concerns
While many mothers report benefits from placenta encapsulation, there are also potential risks and concerns to consider:
Lack of Scientific Research
- There is limited scientific research on the safety and efficacy of placenta pills. Most evidence is anecdotal.
- No large-scale clinical trials have been conducted to date. Smaller studies show mixed results.
- The lack of regulation and oversight is a concern due to potential safety risks.
Possible Side Effects
Some potential side effects of placenta pills that have been reported include:
- Headache, dizziness, fatigue – Possible iron overdose
- Gastrointestinal upset – nausea, diarrhea
- Emotional imbalance – increased anxiety or irritability
- Unpleasant taste – capsules may have a metallic flavor
- Rash or skin irritation
Side effects appear to be rare but it’s important to be aware of the possibility and stop taking the pills if any occur.
Risk of Infection
If the placenta is not properly handled and prepared, there is a risk of bacterial infection.
- Group B strep, E. coli, and other pathogens could be transmitted.
- Hepatitis and HIV transmission is also theoretically possible.
- Proper steaming and dehydrating should eliminate risks.
Table 2: Potential Infectious Risks of Placenta Pills
|Type of Infection||Cause|
|Bacterial infection||E. coli, Group B Strep, Salmonella|
|Viral infection||Hepatitis B/C, HIV|
|Prion disease||Abnormal prion proteins|
To minimize infection risks:
- Work only with experienced specialists using proper safety protocols.
- Ensure all equipment is sterilized and single-use only.
- Steam placenta at high heat (over 160F) before encapsulation.
Risk of Environmental Contaminants
The placenta can accumulate and transfer environmental toxins and pollutants to the baby during pregnancy. Consuming contaminated placenta pills could also transfer these substances:
- Heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic
- Air pollution particles and chemicals
- Medications or drugs taken during pregnancy
Thorough steaming and preparing of the placenta may help reduce contaminants. Still, this remains a concern requiring more research.
Interaction with Medications
Little is known about how placenta could interact with medications, especially psychiatric meds. It is best to consult your doctor about potential interactions, especially if you have mental health conditions.
Some cultures view the placenta as medical waste and consumption as taboo. Many people are disgusted by the idea of placentophagy. While these are not medical risks per se, social and cultural repulsion can have an emotional impact.
V. Placenta Encapsulation Process
To create placenta capsules, the placenta first undergoes a thorough cleaning, preparation and dehydration process:
1. Collection and Transport
- The placenta is collected immediately after birth and placed in a clean container.
- It should be kept cool but not frozen during transport.
2. Cleaning and Rinsing
- Blood clots, membranes and umbilical cord are removed.
- Placenta is rinsed thoroughly under cold water.
- It is inspected for abnormalities before further processing.
- Placenta is steamed using a double boiler at 160-180F for at least 15 minutes.
- Steaming helps cleanse, soften tissues and inactivate viruses.
- Placenta is sliced into thin pieces and placed on trays in a commercial dehydrator at 115-160F.
- It is dehydrated for 8-10 hours until completely dried out.
- The dehydrated placenta is ground into a fine powder using a commercial blender.
- Powder is further filtered to remove any remaining tissue.
- Powder is carefully funneled into empty gelatin capsules, usually size 00.
- Capsules are sealed and sorted into labeled jars or bags.
Proper food safety and hygiene protocols should be used at all steps to minimize any risk of contamination. Only new, sterilized equipment should be used.
VI. Alternatives to Placenta Pills
For those who want to consume their placenta but are wary of encapsulation, some alternative preparation methods include:
- The raw placenta is chopped and soaked in alcohol to extract hormones.
- The liquid tincture can be dropped under the tongue.
Pros: Raw form may retain more nutrients, easy to use
Cons: Uncooked placenta carries higher infection risk
- Small pieces of raw, blended placenta are added to fruit smoothies.
- Blending helps break down the tissues to make ingestion easier.
Pros: Retains raw nutrients, convenient
Cons: Infection risk if not prepared properly
- Diluted placenta extract prepared using traditional Chinese medicine methods.
- Involves multiple rounds of steaming, dehydrating, and filtering the extract.
Pros: Traditional TCM practice, gentler processing
Cons: Time and labor intensive, less research available
Postpartum Herbal Teas
- Teas made with herbs like red raspberry leaf, nettle, and moringa.
- Provide iron, nutrients, and support milk production like placenta.
Pros: Avoid biohazard risks of placenta
Cons: Do not contain placenta’s unique hormone profile
- Some companies add dried placenta powder to cacao to create “placenta chocolate”.
- Provides similar benefits to placenta capsules.
Pros: May be more palatable than capsules
Cons: Chocolate may not mask unpleasant flavors
Umbilical cord blood and tissue can also be saved after birth for potential future use treating illnesses. Talk to your provider about cord blood banking options.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways
Placenta encapsulation provides a way for new mothers to harness the organ’s purported benefits. However, while thousands of women praise placenta pills, the scientific evidence remains limited. There are also potential risks around infection and contamination.
Consulting an expert provider and reviewing current research is advised to make an informed decision. If opting for encapsulation, work only with specialists following proper safety protocols.
Be aware of any side effects and adjust dosage as needed. While placenta pills offer an intriguing option, they should not replace other postpartum care practices. Focus on a healthy diet, rest, medical care, and social support for optimal recovery.
- The benefits of placenta pills are supported mainly by anecdotal evidence, with limited scientific research.
- Work only with qualified placenta encapsulation specialists adhering to safety protocols.
- Start with the standard dosage recommendation and adjust based on individual needs and effects.
- Be aware of potential side effects and risks like infection, contaminants, or iron overload.
- Alternatives like placenta tinctures, smoothies, and herbal remedies may also provide benefits but have different risk profiles.
- Thoroughly research placenta encapsulation and make an informed decision based on your comfort level with the evidence and any potential risks.