Sunday, March 24, 2013

What is the Placenta Pill?

Most of us new moms put very little thought into what happens to our placentas after birth.  After the birth of our first child, I put zero thought into what happened to the amazing organ which had supported my child in utero for 9 months.

Recently I began hearing about women who were consuming their placentas.  Women were having their placentas dehydrated, ground, and placed into pill-type capsules for consumption. This process is called "placenta encapsulation." When I first heard about placenta encapsulation, I had decided it was something I was not interested in doing because it seemed so unusual.  But not long after, I saw placenta encapsulation featured on our prime-time NBC news, and that was when I considered that there may be real benefits to consuming the placenta.

Although there has been very little research on the effects of consuming the placenta, there have been some studies noting pain relief, increased milk production, and a decrease in postpartum depression while taking the placenta pill (Placenta Benefits).  Most mammals consume their placentas after birth- but why?  One might suppose that animals consume the placenta to clean the birth site. However, mammals that move their offspring to a new location after birth later return to consume the placenta.  Even in humans, consuming the placenta has been a common practice for many cultures. As a scientist I was both curious and skeptical about the proposed benefits of placenta consumption and it was enough to convince me that placenta encapsulation was worth a try.

Encapsulation Process:

I had my placenta prepared in the traditional Chineese way: steamed with herbs and peppers, dehydrated, hand-ground, and placed into capsules for consumption.  The placenta was processed and returned to me within about 24hrs of birth.  The dosing is to consume 1-2 pills per day, and I opted to consume 1 pill per day.  Since many people note an increase in energy levels while taking the pills, it is recommended to avoid taking pills right before bed to avoid insomnia.

DIY vs Professional processing:

I opted to have my placenta professionally encapsulated for a multitude of reasons
  • Cost effective vs purchasing supplies to DIY ($150 for encapsulation, vs. $125 or more to purchase supplies)
  • Easier (pills were hand delivered when completed)
  • Less Yucky (No flashbacks of placenta processing while I'm consuming the pills)

What are the pills like?

Placenta pills are just like any other supplement pill you may be taking.  They are easy to swallow, do not cause indigestion, and there is no weird aftertaste.

Did I have noticeable benefits?

  • Mood and Energy: It was a little difficult to tell if my mood was more positive after taking the placenta pill.  I noticed that I was more tired in the afternoons and was quickly loosing patience to handle our 2-year-old's melt downs.  I began postponing taking the pill until after 1pm and did notice that I was more patient and had more energy to get things done.
  • Bleeding: I did have a definite decrease in bleeding during this postpartum period than I did after the birth of our first child.  Again, it is difficult to say if this was a result of the placenta pills or simply a result of this being our second child.
  • Pain: I had very little pain after delivery and in my postpartum period, and I wasn't taking any medications for pain.  However, on one day during my first postpartum week, I forgot to take my usual afternoon dose of placenta pill. At about 5pm I began having a lot of pain and became extremely dizzy.  I had to lie down for an hour and still wasn't feeling well for the next few hours.  I resumed normal dosing with the placenta pill in the subsequent days and had no issues with pain or dizziness again.
  • Iron levels: During my postpartum period with our first child, I had low iron levels and bruised very easily.  I had to eat a large bowl of iron-fortified oatmeal daily (in addition to my prenatal vitamin supplements) just to keep the bruising to a manageable level.  I had no bruising during my postpartum period while taking the placenta pills.
My non-scientific experience with taking the placenta pill is certainly very subjective.  However, I have had a much better postpartum period than I experienced with the birth of our first child. Although I would love to see some large scientific studies on the benefits of placenta pill consumption, this probably won't happen any time soon. A "medication" that comes from our own bodies isn't going to make any money for the pharmaceutical companies.  However, based on my experience, I would definitely choose to have my placenta encapsulated again.


  1. I had some friends do this and I had never heard of it until I started attending a local breastfeeding group. It sounds like a great alternative to western medicine and has HUGE benefits! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I thought about this with my last child, but I had some problems with a piece of my placenta not coming out. It got sent off for testing. Next time maybe!

  3. Wow. Not something I am into, but I think it is great if it helps women! Thanks for sharing your story. I love hearing everyones views.

    1. I had the same thought when I first heard about this, but curiosity was enough incentive to give placenta encapsulation a try.

  4. This is totally interesting Nissa, I seen this done in a tv show and thought to myself " i need to do this" I just cant see myself doing it at all. Even though my degree is working in the medical field I just cant bring myself to do it for myself. Baby is coming soon so if I'm going to do it I need to act fast. Thank you for this post very interesting..

    1. Pollyanna, yes I couldn't imagine doing it myself. Some days cutting up raw chicken is a little much for me! However, I think realistically it wouldn't even have been possible for me to do it myself. With a hospital birth it was over 24hrs before we were home, and when we got home it was too busy. The Douala who prepared mine picked it up within 2hrs and returned the completed capsules to me while I was still in the hospital. I was very glad that I hired someone to prepare it professionally.

  5. I was among the many that thought NO WAY but now I have had several of my friends do it and really felt that it helped. Baby is due in June and I am definitely going to hire someone to do mine. I also want a picture of it. I love how the placenta looks just like an old oak tree. Hope you don't mind me adding a link but here is great place to find professional services. The girl that is doing mine, went through their training.

    1. Thanks for the link! I wished I would have gotten a picture of mine before encapsulation because I have seen some very beautiful images of placentas. I'm glad your friends have also had positive experiences with the placenta pill.

  6. very interesting hearing from someone who did it for one birth but not the other thank you