Should You Take Placenta Pills After Giving Birth?

Lately, you’ve probably heard more and more about women consuming their own placentas following childbirth, with celebrities like January Jones, Kourtney Kardashian and Alicia Silverstone leading the charge… and making it more of a mainstream conversation. Your first thought might be ew and yuck and ew, imagining some postnatal Silence of the Lambs situation. I’ll admit, it was certainly my reaction when I first heard about it years ago. The more I’ve started reading about placentophagy though, the far less gross that it sounds and it even makes some sense.

Does it actually work though? According to midwives and women who’ve taken placenta pills, yes. According to medical experts, it may just be a placebo effect. So what is known about placenta pills right now? Here goes…

What are placenta pills?

Following childbirth, women can choose to save their placentas and give them to professional placenta encapsulators, who take the protective womb tissue and make it into pills. As Claudia Booker, a US certified midwife and placenta encapsulator, explains, it’s a very involved — and very sanitary — process. The traditional method in Chinese medicine involves steaming the tissue in a double boiler, often with herbs that produce heat like ginger, cayenne or lemon. (Some people prefer that the tissue isn’t steamed and, instead, remains raw). Then a professional encapsulator places the pieces into a dehydrator at a low temperature for about 12 to 14 hours. When it’s done, she grinds it into a very fine powder that she puts into capsules (prices range from $200 to $300 for a supply of pills that lasts about three weeks postnatal). She brings them back to the new mama who can just pop a pill, without having to handle her own placenta tissue. Booker recommends her clients take two a day–one in the morning and one around dinner — for about three weeks.

Related: Placenta Pills & 12 More Things to Make with Your Placenta

What are they supposed to do?

The placenta is an endocrine organ, which produces hormones that support a healthy pregnancy. After giving birth, however, the levels of those hormones in the body plummet, which can be rough on a new mum’s already-taxed emotional state. “Placenta pills can help fire up a woman’s adrenal system, increasing her oestrogen and progesterone so that the hormonal change is not so dramatic,” says Booker. “It helps her to feel more emotionally balanced.” But, she warns that while these pills can help with post-baby blues, they are definitely not a cure for postnatal depression. Repeat: Even midwives insist that consuming your own placenta will not treat PND, which must be treated by a doctor.

Some people also believe that placenta pills can stimulate the production of the hormone, prolactin, which helps your body to produce breast milk. While that system is already starting to work on its own, the capsules may help aid in lactation, giving your body that extra boost.

Lastly, the placenta is rich in iron-producing chemicals that encourage your body to produce more red blood cells. Not only could this prevent lethargy and anemia, but it can help carry oxygen to the brain so you’re not quite as foggy during that sleep-deprived, newborn haze.

So, what do they actually do?

Many new mums report benefits from taking placenta pills. Medical experts warn, however, that it might be a placebo effect. “Women are reporting a wide range benefits regardless of when or how many pills are taken, and regardless of how the placenta was stored and prepared, which raises the question as to whether there is, at least partially, a placebo effect,” says Dr Cynthia Coyle, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University who lead a review on the existing research about placenta pills.

Dr Coyle also warns that there have been no studies examining the risks of placental consumption. “We know that one function of the placenta is to filter toxins, such as mercury, lead, and selenium, for example, which have been found in varying degrees in placental tissue post-birth,” she says. “Placental tissue may also contain bacteria, viruses, and other toxins as a result of infections and other maternal events during pregnancy. Due to these factors, ingestion of raw tissue would likely pose more risks.”

All of that being said, many new mothers who do take placenta pills swear by them, and continue to take them following subsequent pregnancies. To be on the safe side, talk to your doctor or midwife about your post-birth plans, particularly until there is more research on the medical benefits (and risks) associated with placentophagy.

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Image: Getty