Medically reviewed by
Dr. Nicolette Natale
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Placenta encapsulation is a method of transforming your placenta into a pill you later ingest. The goal is to gain the same nourishment from your placenta that it supplied your baby with while in utero. Making placenta pills isn’t the only way to eat the placenta. It is, however, the most common. Other methods include eating it raw, eating it cooked, and consuming it as a liquid in a smoothie or as an extract.
The placenta serves an important role in nourishing your baby during pregnancy. Taking your placenta as a pill is a growing trend among new moms who hope to gain the same health benefits from it as it provides to their unborn babies. However, with these supposed benefits come serious risks you need to be aware of before deciding if placenta pills are right for you.
Some new parents believe in the supposed health benefits of placenta encapsulation. The placenta is also what’s known as afterbirth. It has the critical job of providing your unborn baby with oxygen, hormones, and nutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. Other animals consume the placenta after giving birth, but it’s unknown if it’s because of its health benefits or if its purpose is to eliminate evidence of birth so as not to attract predators.
The belief is that placenta encapsulation benefits mothers by providing nutrients and hormones that help reduce their pain, increase their energy, improve their mood, increase milk production, prevent postpartum depression, and improve the maternal postpartum iron status.
The placenta encapsulation process begins within 24 hours after your baby is born and the afterbirth is collected. It starts with the removal of the umbilical cord and amniotic sac. The placenta is rinsed with water and placed in a steamer, where it’s steamed for about 20 minutes to cleanse it. The steaming step may include herbs with microbial properties.
It’s then cut into pieces and dehydrated using a food-grade dehydrator. Once it’s completely dry, it’s moved to a food processor, where it’s ground into a fine powder and put into vitamin capsules. The encapsulated placenta must be refrigerated until it’s consumed, which usually begins within a few days. A placenta encapsulation company can do all the work for you.
Placenta encapsulation is one way to consume the placenta. Sometimes it is also eaten raw, cooked, roasted, dehydrated or even distilled into a tincture. Currently, there's no evidence that one method of eating the placenta is any more beneficial than the others.
There are very few recent studies on the effects of human maternal placentophagy, but the potential risks of eating your own placenta are serious and must be considered. While the placenta provides your unborn baby with oxygen, hormones, and nutrients, it also filters out toxic waste. It may contain harmful materials that pose a danger to your health, and if you’re breastfeeding, the health of your newborn baby.
Since placenta encapsulation isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no official guidelines for the process. Each placenta encapsulation company follows the guidelines it sets. You need to be aware of the risks so you can choose a company you trust.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn about a 2016 case of a newborn baby diagnosed with a case of late-onset Streptococcus agalactiae or Group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteremia after the mother ingested her encapsulated placenta. The pathogen entered her body and was transmitted to her baby through her breastmilk. The company responsible for encapsulating her placenta did not screen for pathogens postpartum, which resulted in her newborn baby contracting a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection.
During pregnancy, your placenta accumulates heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. These heavy metals are not removed during the placenta encapsulation process. The low doses of these heavy metals, when taken over a long period of time, can harm you and your baby.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), heavy metals may increase cancer risk, slow growth and development, and lead to issues in behavior and learning in babies. Heavy metals may also cause kidney and gastrointestinal damage, skin lesions, immune system dysfunction, vascular damage, and nervous system disorders.
While some believe that eating the placenta increases milk production, there is no evidence that supports this.In fact, the placenta contains progesterone, a hormone that inhibits the production of prolactin, which is the hormone responsible for milk production.
After you give birth, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This triggers the production of prolactin, which allows you to produce milk. Reintroducing progesterone by taking your encapsulated placenta could lead to low milk supply.
Your placenta also contains estrogen, which some people believe reduces the risk of postpartum depression. There is little scientific evidence to support this claim. Estrogen does, however, increase your risk of blood clots, which may include deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism (PE), and stroke. When you ingest your encapsulated placenta, you may increase your chances of developing these potentially life-threatening blood clots.
Anja Health is an umbilical cord blood and tissue bank that collects and preserves the stem cells found in your umbilical cord after you give birth. These stem cells could treat or reverse serious conditions, such as sickle-cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, lymphoma, heart disease, and several other potentially life-threatening diseases that may affect your child in the future.
Anja Health can team up with a placenta encapsulation partner of your choice to make cord blood banking and placenta encapsulation possible. All you have to do is order a collection kit before your due date, store it at room temperature, take it with you to the hospital when you give birth, and tell your healthcare professional that you have your kit ready for collection.
After your child’s birth, the Anja Health team collects the kit, and Anja Health and the placenta encapsulation partner of your choice take care of the rest. Contact Anja Health to order your kit and ask any questions you may have.
If you’re considering placenta encapsulation, talk to your healthcare provider. Since there is very little research done on placenta encapsulation, your doctor can best inform you of the potential benefits and risks for you and your baby, helping you make the healthiest decision for you.