Will I be judged if I want to eat my placenta? And is it worth it?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

Maybe, to both questions. I believe that anyone who judges you for your birthing or parenting decisions isn’t worth your time. Sure, people close to you have every right to not understand your decision, but they don’t have a right to make you feel shame for the decision. And what’s the deal with some people having such a strong reaction to those wanting to ingest their placenta? Well…

Many believe that consuming the placenta is a dangerous, “hippie dippy” thing to do. They’re not entirely wrong. It can be dangerous in certain circumstances, and I know lots of hippies who are all about noshing on that placenta. But I believe what’s really behind these conceptions is that the idea of someone eating their placenta brings up visions of dicing up the organ and tossing it in the frying pan, or even throwing a few raw chunks in a smoothie. While that’s been known to happen, it’s not what placenta consumption usually looks like. Most women get the placenta encapsulated and take a few of the pills each day.

Before I get into the specifics of ingesting the placenta, know that it’s a controversial topic because very little research has been done on it. And the studies that have been done were limited, providing inconclusive results. Because of this, I think it’s important to talk to your care provider before making this decision. Then do what feels best to you.

To increase your knowledge of what it means to consume your placenta, let’s look at some facts:

How is it encapsulated? The placenta is washed, steamed (sometimes with herbs), dehydrated, and ground, and then the powder is encapsulated.

How could eating it help? Anecdotal evidence has suggested that ingesting the placenta can do the following:

  1. Increase energy
  2. Balance hormones
  3. Prevent anemia through restoration of iron levels (However, it’s been found that most placenta pills contain a very modest amount of iron.)
  4. Lower chances of developing postpartum depression

Some believe these benefits are caused by the placebo effect. As a big believer in the mind-body connection, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But I’ve also heard from women who felt that their placenta pills dampened their mood and energy. In addition, there are potential risks to consider.

What are reasons I might not want to eat the placenta?

* Group B strep: If you have group B strep (GBS), there’s a possibility it could infect the placenta. The infection could then be passed to the baby through breastmilk after you ingest the pills. I’ve known plenty of women who tested positive for GBS, encapsulated their placenta, and had no issues with their baby being infected, but it’s important you’re aware of the risk before making the decision.

* Infection: In addition to GBS, it’s possible for the placenta to be contaminated by other intrauterine infections. There’s also the potential for contamination during the encapsulation process, if it’s not handled properly.

* Hormones: Estrogen in the placenta pills could increase the risk of blood clots. And the presence of progesterone could impede prolactin, which is responsible for milk production. Estrogen can also suppress prolactin.

What to do

Talk with your care provider. If they simply tell you not to encapsulate, ask them why. Ask questions until you get a clear view of where they’re coming from. If you feel that what they’re sharing is primarily based on personal beliefs instead of more solid evidence, consider talking with a few placenta encapsulating specialists to receive a more well-rounded perspective. After gathering information from numerous sources, sit with the decision until you’re clear on what you feel most comfortable with.

If you choose to move forward with placenta encapsulation, here are questions to ask the specialist:

Did you receive formal training and certification? What did that consist of? Do you engage in continuing education?

How many placentas have you encapsulated?

What are the risks of placenta encapsulation? Have your clients ever had adverse effects?

Are there certain STDs or infections that would rule me out as a candidate for encapsulation?

How do you handle and store the placenta before you’re ready to encapsulate?

Where do you encapsulate? What are the sanitation procedures for your equipment and workspace?

Would you be willing to encapsulate in my kitchen if that’s what I’m most comfortable with?

How do you make sure my placenta isn’t mixed up with someone else’s?

How do you encapsulate the placenta?

What temperature do you use to steam the placenta? Is it high enough to kill potential bloodborne pathogens?

What do you encapsulate the powder in?

Will you be immediately available to pick up my placenta? If not, how should I store it until you arrive?

How soon will you deliver my pills?

Will you provide a dosage recommendation?

When you start taking the pills, pay attention to how they make you feel. If you start feeling down or notice a drop in milk supply, consider not taking the pills for a few days to see if the negative symptoms go away. Because there isn’t much quality evidence about this, each woman taking these pills is essentially acting as a guinea pig, which ends up great for some, and not so much for others. Each body seems to respond a bit differently.

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