My name is Kim. I am a doula. I do not encapsulate placentas and I want to tell you why.
Yes, I am a doula and many doulas offer placenta encapsulating as an additional service. I am not one of those doulas. I am a doula that is happy to refer that job out. Why? There are so many more evidence based things I can do to help new mothers that relate to most of the reasons why they are considering placenta encapsulating. There is simply not enough evidence for me to feel that this is how I would like to spend my time instead of doing the other things I can be doing for clients.
One of the primary reasons women consider encapsulating their placentas is anecdotal information that it can aid in appropriate milk supply. As an IBCLC, of course, I think milk supply is very significant. One of the driving factors of good production is good breastfeeding, early and often. This helps lay the foundation for the days and weeks to come. Breastfeeding, in fact, is one of the reasons I became a doula. We know that better birth experiences also aid in better breastfeeding. I wanted to support as many families as i could through the whole experience, rather than coming in after the birth and trying to catch up. Being there right away at birth and returning within 18-24 hours to see how things are progressing really helps get things off to a good start. Early identification of any potential roadblocks and removing them as soon as possible can make a big improvement to how breast-feeding starts off.
There are so many reasons for milk supply being low. If as an IBCLC, we identify a supply issue and a suspect cause, knowing the mechanisms of some of the remedies available helps us know what to recommend to help resolve the issue. Ee do not yet know the mechanism of how placentas work to assist in lactation, if they even do. If we identify a supply risk, there are many more evidence based recommendations that can be made that we know with much more certainty should help the situation.
I will also state that I and other IBCLC colleagues have witnessed mothers with supply issues that resolve after they stop taking placenta capsules. Again, this speaks to us not knowing the mechanisms behind how a placenta might aid or impact lactation.
In the end, my skill set as an IBCLC is of much more value than the time I would spend processing a placenta, in my opinion.
I do also have some personal hesitations that I wish for people to consider. I am not saying that they need to decide not to encapsulate after the considerations but just that they consider the points.
When we discuss postpartum mood imbalances & disorders we need to look at a larger picture than just a placenta. We see many mothers of multiples who state they did not consume their placenta after baby #1 but did after baby #2 and felt better emotionally than the first time. However, did they review the other differences? Baby #1 we often know little to nothing about what the experience of mothering will really be like, we go at it alone, we are not very confident in what we already know and we hesitate to seek out much information. Often baby #1 was a longer labour and longer pushing stage. Going from no baby to a baby, no sleep, constant physical and emotional demands from the infant, plus ones own recovery can be overwhelming. Baby #2, labour might be drastically different, maybe this time more supported, a shorter labour, easier pushing, the lack of sleep one gets with a newborn in the house is not as much as a surprise and there is much more understanding of normal newborn behaviours. Maybe the second time she had a doula, the same lady who encapsulated the placenta for her, and also provided postpartum supports, like helping with baby care so she could nap or helped with dishes and laundry so mom can rest, put up her feet and just focus on breastfeeding. Having some healthy meals with nutritional elements similar to a placenta might be a more regular occurrence the second time.
Speaking of nutrients; sometimes it is said that mammals consume their own placentas, so why wouldn’t humans? Some theories are that mammals do it for safety; that in the wild the smell of afterbirth would draw predators near and the mother & the newly born were vulnerable and at risk, so for safety, the mother would quickly consume the placenta. There are also some theories that a mother would be hungry and in the wild food is scarce. Their own placenta vs nothing was the best they could get so it could be considered a last resort for a nutritional deficient animal. We no longer live in the wild and food scarcity is not as prevalent. In this day and age, most humans don’t look at their placenta and see their next meal or have a desire to consume it. Even in the wild, they consume it mostly in one sitting and not small amounts over days and weeks like the placenta encapsulation community recommends now. Even with diminished nutrition in food sources, we can purchase vitamins and foods enhanced with vitamins, which could provide the same effects. There is a study I am aware of that is not yet completed and it does show that the mothers consuming their placentas do have higher hemoglobins at 6 weeks postpartum. However, it has also been commented that there is a chance that the families that have the available monetary funds to pay for placenta encapsulation services, also have the monetary resources to purchases better quality and quantity of foods. The cost of the placenta encapsulations has not been covered for the study. It is a control that needs to be considered.
As a former Medical Laboratory Technologist who worked in manufacturing of blood and blood products, I also worry about an appropriate environment to encapsulate and I do have concerns about infection control. I know that might be over-reactive but as someone who had to do quality control, sterility checks and saw the process of recalls, I think safety and specifications are important. I mean, after all, the placenta might be contaminated with poop. Even a small amount of bacteria can cause a big tummy ache. I say that more tongue in cheek than anything, but it is a thought. There is equipment needed to encapsulate and I am just not 100% that the risk of cross contamination is not there. Now, I am not an encapsulator and maybe there are steps in place to account for that risk. I am unsure about that. I am just saying, for me, it is something to think about. In the lab, in food processing, in other areas where contamination is a risk, sterility checks and quality control is what keeps stuff “clean and safe” and where recalls start, if they are needed. Just because you made the organ does not mean it cannot hurt you if bacteria is at play.
After all that, we do know that placebo effect can be strong and powerful. I am happy to accept placebo effect if you are and I am happy to refer you to a local placenta encapsulator if your desire is to encapsulate your placenta.