Placenta encapsulation has been around for thousands of years in oriental cultures. Recently it has become more popular with the mainstream birthing community. Placenta encapsulation is process of dehydrating, grinding, and then encapsulating the placenta. Those capsules are then consumed by the mother. They have many benefits that help in the immediate postpartum period and later during the menopausal period.
Consumption of placenta capsules has been anecdotally to increase milk production, enhance pain relief, and balance out postpartum hormones leading to a reduction in postpartum depression symptoms. Additionally, placenta encapsulation can be taken during menopause to help balance out those hormones.
According to current research there are several benefits of placental ingestion. These include increased milk production, increased infant growth, and uses in pain relief/management. According to Kristal, DiPirro, and Thompson (pg 190, 2012), the direct cause of these benefits is difficult to determine since the placenta is responsible for the production of at least 240 known substances found in the amniotic fluid. How these interact with the act of digestion and the produce these effects currently eludes modern medical study. However, these effects have been researched and have been found to be evident.
The most pronounced effect of placental ingestion is the increase of maternal milk supply and production. Hammett (1918) found that milk supply (based on weight) was found to be present in greater quantities of mothers who ingested placenta versus those who did not. The effect was witnessed again in 1954 when Soykova-Pachnerova E, et. al. found that of 210 women that ingested placenta to increase milk supply, 181 had positive results. This research, while older, is echoed by Bensky and Gamble (1997) nearly 80 years later when a controlled study of 57 women with inadequate milk supply ingested powdered placenta. Eighty-four percent of those women experienced markedly improved milk production within the short span of 4 days.
Further research has shown that not only is milk production affected, but infant growth is as well. McNeile (1918) found that when infants of lactating mother on similar diets were compared, those whose mothers ingested placenta were quicker to recover from postnatal weight lose. This effect was attributed to the increase of protein and lactose present in their mother’s milk. He concluded that since the only notable difference between the to groups was the placental ingestion, it must play a role in the increase of these two important aspects of the milk and infant growth.
Finally, placenta consumption has been shown to enhance pain relief and medicinal pain management. DiPirro and Kristal (2004) and Kristal (2012) found that ingestion of placenta and amniotic fluid had dramatic effect on the use of opioid medications in rats. The basis of this effect is the placental opioid-enhancing factor (POEF) in the placenta. This substance greatly enhances the effectiveness of opioid medications allowing for lower doses to be just as effective as higher ones in women who do not have the POEF from placental ingestion.
However, prepared incorrectly, the capsules can become contaminated with fungus, mold, or bacteria causing the mother and baby to become ill. Or if a specialist doesn’t check the placenta carefully they could process a placenta that is unfit for consumption. For the most part, however, the benefits far outweigh the risks.