The Problem With Birth E4: The Placenta Industry
This is the transcribed version of episode 4 of the podcast presented by ETX Birth Co. This script is made available so that anyone who is hearing impaired can still benefit and learn from this free resource we provide. This script has not been evaluated for spelling and/or grammatical errors.
Hey y'all, welcome back to The Problem With Birth. I'm your host Holly Clayburn and this week we are talking all about placentas, placenta encapsulation, and really just the placenta industry in general . I absolutely love placenta encapsulation, so you'll definitely hear me mention it a lot. It's hands down my favorite service to provide, and I love sharing information about the many uses for placentas, the history of them, and potential benefits to consuming it. Total disclaimer on this episode, there isn't a lot of evidence for placenta consumption because there hasn't been any real studies on it. The last time it was even scientifically looked into was in the 1950's, so most of the information we have is anecdotal. The use and consumption of placentas has been in practice for thousands of years though, so it's not a new idea or practice by any means. Most people don't realize how long this has been around and believe it's just a new fad, but I'm here to drop some truth bombs and cool facts on y'all. So if you're still with me after I've said placenta this many times, then let's get to it.
First let's talk about what the placenta is and the function of it. Your placenta is the organ that attaches you to your baby. There is the maternal side which is what is attached to your uterus, and the fetal side which is attached to your baby via umbilical cord. The fetal side is what you often see the pretty pictures of and is referred to as the tree of life. The function of the placenta is to provide your baby with oxygen and nutrients and to filter waste. Your placenta is responsible for giving your baby life for the duration of your pregnancy. Your baby is completely dependent on it's function. Placentas are the only disposable organ your body creates, meaning that it is grown with the purpose of later being expelled and your body will do this again and again as many times as it becomes pregnant.
The placenta is usually located at the back of your uterus towards the top, but can also form at the front of your uterus, or at the bottom covering the cervix. When your placenta is located at the front it is called an anterior placenta and can sometimes dull the movement you'll feel from the baby. There can sometimes be other risks associated with this placement but typically it doesn't have any negative effects and you can have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. When your placenta is low lying and covering your cervix this is called a previa. It can be complete or partial, and can move further away from your cervix as your pregnancy progresses. In almost all cases a previa is cause for a cesarean birth. Like I mentioned, a previa can move as your uterus grows, so just because you have one early on, doesn't mean that a c-section is set in stone.
Now that you know the basics of a placenta, we are gonna talk about why people consume it. The consumption of placenta is called placentophagy, or human placentophagy for us. No doubt you've heard of celebrities who have chosen to partake in this, but it's not a new, shocking trend believe it or not. Placenta consumption and even encapsulation has been around for a very long time. Most methods used today are based on traditional Chinese medicine which can be traced back thousands of years. There are a few different ways that people will choose to consume their placenta, but I only offer one. The method that I offer includes steaming and dehydrating the placenta before I turn it into capsules. I choose to only offer this method because I believe it is the safest option, and in my experience client's have still received incredible benefits. Some people will choose to encapsulate their placenta raw, freeze it raw then slice it up for smoothies, cook it and use it as a meat in a dish, and various other ways, really there's no limit to what you can do with it. Some will take a small chunk and placing it in their cheek immediately after birth to stop postpartum hemorrhaging. I've seen anecdotal evidence supporting this, but again nothing that you'll find any scientific data on.
Many people have chosen to consume their placenta while raw and not had any negative side effects, however since it's likely the placenta passed through a vagina and could have come into contact with different bacteria such as group B strep, I prefer to steam and dehydrate it to remove all bacteria and eliminate the possibility altogether. Even in a cesarean birth, the placenta can come into contact with various bacteria so this is what I recommend across the board, not just for my clients who deliver vaginally. If a placenta isn't handled correctly it can make you very sick, so I always always always encourage you to hire a reputable and knowledgeable professional.
When you're deciding who you want to encapsulate your placenta, you want to choose someone who you can trust, and who has been properly trained. You want someone who has taken a hands on training, and not someone who just watched a few videos on it. I love a good DIY but this is not a service that I recommend doing that with AT ALL. For one, the equipment is expensive, two, there is a lot more that goes into it than following a brief set of Pinterest instructions, three, you can make yourself sick, and four, you will be recovering from giving birth you need to rest. That doesn't mean to trust your BFF to it either, believe me... Hire a professional. Placenta encapsulation as an industry is not regulated so you want to be diligent when hiring and trusting someone to process your placenta.
I only ever recommend hiring an encapsulator who will do the entire process in your home and this is something that I feel VERY strongly about. This is where things get interesting and where a lot of encapsulators agree to disagree. Many offer to pick up your placenta from you, encapsulate it, then return within a few days or weeks. This is a no exceptions, hard no for me. I ONLY provide this service in the home of my clients, and never transport their placenta for them. This ensures that you know exactly where your placenta has been, you know without a doubt that it has been handled properly because youre the one handling it, and it gives you peace of mind. There have been a few documented instances of someone actually having the wrong placenta delivered to them, and then them consuming it before their encapsulator realized their mistake. Yikes! Having the policy of only encapsulating in my client's home eliminates this from even being a possibility.
When your placenta is transported home by you, then encapsulated right in front of you there is absolutely no question, no doubt, no worry that it belongs to you. Another reason that I only recommend this process being done in your home is the fact that most likely, you have never seen the inside of your encapsulators home, have no idea where your placenta will be stored, how clean/sanitary the process will be, if anything extra has been added, if it wasn't properly handled, or again if it's even yours. Some people are a little uneasy about this being done in their home, but quickly realize how much better it is. Obviously I can't speak for what other placenta specialists do, but this is what my client's experience. I leave your kitchen cleaner than I found it, I'm happy to let anyone watch me work, including kids, but am quiet and out of the way if you'd rather steer clear, and the best part of it all is that you have a postpartum expert in your home very quickly after birth. Many questions can come up in those first few days and weeks home. For a few hours over the course of two days you have a knowledgable professional in your home, and I am more than happy to answer any questions, to reassure you, hold a baby while you use the restroom, to give information on any resources that you may need, and to just be a source of support and tell you that you're doing a great job. Many people have no helpful interaction or postpartum checkups until 6 weeks out, but often need help and resources long before then. When you have your placenta encapsulated in your home, you get that valuable resource long before then, and in what can be some of the hardest days. That part of this service is invaluable.
So why exactly do people want to have their placentas encapsulated?
Like I said earlier, all of the information we have on the benefits of placenta encapsulation are anecdotal and based on people's experiences of consumption over the years. There hasn't really been any scientific studies, so there's no hard evidence to point to.
The most common reported benefits have been increased breastmilk supply, faster recovery times, increased energy and iron levels, balanced hormones, decreased risk of postpartum depression, and overall happier and easier postpartum experiences. Just like every pregnancy and body is different, so is every placenta. We cannot guarantee what, if any of these benefits, you will experience. In 2013 the Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self Reported Motivations and Experiences surveyed those who had consumed their placenta and explored why people chose encapsulation. Their results found that 75% reported a very positive experience, 20% had a positive experience, and that 97% will do it again in future. I haven't found any large scale studies since then, but some smaller independent "research" is being conducted. I say research with air quotes because it's not anything official, but the fact that this area is getting more attention makes me so happy.
Along with the capsules, many have opted to have mementos made such as placenta prints, umbilical cord keepsakes, or even jewelry. There are many other useable products that can be made from your placenta as well, things like tinctures, salves, or even broth.
Aside from bringing your placenta home with the intention of consuming, there are many other uses for it. Some cultures have buried their placentas for sacred, honoring, or spiritual traditions. Many have planted trees, flowers, or other crops on top of them and used the placenta for nutrients to grow the plant. Some villages in Nigeria plant a banana with the birth of every child, and the plant is named after the child. Fields of bananas surround the villages and they are used for the children's playgrounds. In some cultures the type of tree planted is determined by the sex of the baby, and in others the grandmother chooses the tree that she thinks matches the newborn. There are many, many reasons behind why someone would choose to bury their placenta and there is a ton of information out there regarding it if this is something that interests you more than consumption. If you don't want to bury your placenta then you can also donate it. You can donate it to a placenta training class, to a hospital or lab for research or to help treat burn victims, or you can even donate it to search and rescue dog trainings!
Another very popular option aside from consumption is leaving the baby attached to their placenta until the umbilical cord naturally dries and falls off. This can take up to 10 days, and is called a lotus birth. Lotus births are typically chosen for spiritual beliefs, as many believe that the placenta and newborn are one being.
So now that we've talked about the numerous things you can do with your placenta, and why you might want to consume it, I'm sure that your next question is how to get it home from the hospital. Things can get tricky, and even messy in this department. Not all hospitals are comfortable with you taking it, and can make you jump through many hoops before they even consider it. I've heard of hospitals wanting a waiver of liability signed, that they charge hundreds of dollars for you to be able to take it, who want to test it first, which renders it useless for consumption btw, or who flat out refuse to release it. Hospitals in my area haven't ever given my client's any issues, but Texas is one of only 3 states who actually has a law in place giving you the right to keep your placenta. That law is fairly recent too, it was only passed 5 years ago! Our law states, in short, that unless you have an infectious blood born disease, the hospital has to release your placenta to you or your spouse. Now even with this law in place, hospital policy, or staff can try to circumvent it. They can still charge you for it, they can send it to pathology, or they can "accidentally" throw it away. Sometimes your provider will want to test your placenta, usually though they can take a small chunk instead of the whole thing. Now this is one thing that I'm not sure of, I couldn't find conclusive evidence for this, but a nurse told one of my clients that you can decline or refuse to have it sent to pathology all together. I don't see why this wouldn't be true, but again I feel like this is kind of a gray area. The law says that it doesn't prohibit them from doing that, but it also doesn't say that you have to agree, so just keep that in mind.
In years before the law was past, and even now in other states it is very common for a woman to steal her own placenta because a hospital won't release it. Now, I cannot recommend this, and it's not something that any placenta professional should recommend or participate in, but you do you. I always let my clients know that it is best to discuss their placenta plans with their provider as soon as possible, so that they can resolve any issues that may possibly come up. I always make myself available to the provider in the event they have any questions or concern, and am happy to facilitate the release of a placenta with the birth facility as well. As far as actual transport of it, I give my clients very specific instructions and information on what to do with it and how to get it back to their house so I can come encapsulate it for them. I don't ever recommend leaving the placenta in the hospital with you. You don't want it to accidentally get tossed out, sent to the lab, or risk it going bad if you plan to consume. Some hospitals actually have a policy against it staying with you anyways.
So why is it that providers and hospitals have been so reluctant to release your own organ? Money. Money is no doubt the BIGGEST reason. Cosmetic companies have been utilizing the benefits of placentas in their products for many, many years, and until the 1990s hospitals were making a big profit off of selling their patients placentas to those cosmetic companies. It was outlawed due to the belief that the use of human placenta was causing puberty to occur in young girls faster. Placenta's are still used in the majority of all cosmetic products to this day, but now sheep or other animal placentas are what is most commonly used... Or is it? Over the last few years, many companies and hospitals have been busted for still using and or selling human placenta for the cosmetic industry. Aside from the beauty world, hospitals are still legally selling placentas to independent research facilities. There are countless research projects currently happening studying the use of placenta for various things, but the most notable is The Human Placenta Project. I'm not going to go all into that, but there's tons of information on it if you're into research. Another reason why your provider may not release your placenta is their personal bias. Like I've mentioned several times, there isn't any hard medical evidence supporting placenta consumption so not all providers are on board with it. That's why I always encourage my clients to discuss their plans in advance that way there aren't any surprises when you go to take it home.
Now, there are a few instances where your placenta wouldn't be safe for consumption.
If you have an infectious blood born disease such as HIV, AIDS, or Hepatitis C. It is extremely unlikely that a provider or facility would release your placenta anyways, especially since that is the exception to the law. I can't say whether it's safe or not, and because of that I as an encapsulator would not recommend or encapsulate for you.
Chorioamnionitis is an inflation of the fetal membranes due to a bacterial infection. The risk of developing this increases with each vaginal examination in the final weeks of pregnancy, which is one of many reasons I don't recommend cervical checks. Since this directly infects the amnion and chorion your placenta would no longer be safe for consumption.
Improper handling can also result in your placenta no longer being safe. When you hire a professional encapsulator, they will give you the information on how to properly handle and care for it. Like I said earlier, THIS is why you hire a trained professional, and skip the DIY project.
Along with improper handling, because placentas need to be refrigerated or frozen within a certain amount of time, if you choose to have a lotus birth then you cannot consume your placenta.
If you agree to send your placenta to pathology or to any type of lab then it is no longer safe for consumption. Typically chemicals will be used on it while there, and it's almost guaranteed to come into contact with some type of bacteria that will make you sick. So if you want to consume your placenta in any way, then it cannot leave your room, until it's being transported home by you or someone you trust.
Lastly, if you have an allergic reaction to any medication then I do not recommend consumption. Almost all medicines will cross the placenta so if you choose to consume after an allergic reaction then the chances of having that same allergic reaction are high.
There are of course some grey zones with placenta encapsulation with things like smoking, preeclampsia, or meconium but for those I encourage you to reach out to your chosen professional to discuss them at length. Not all professionals will have the same opinions, but should be able to give you the information we have, along with what their training organization's stance on it is, and then you can make your decision from there.
This is a service that I believe in and support so much. I've seen all the amazing things it's done for my clients, I've experienced the benefits of encapsulation myself, and I've spent countless hours studying these incredible organs. Placentas are such an endless topic, and even though this is the longest episode I've done to date, I feel like I only scratched the surface of them. I am truly obsessed and fascinated by them. Even though placenta consumption is not a new practice, many have found it hard to have the opportunity to experience the benefits because their provider or birth facility wouldn't release it. Placenta encapsulation has been regarded as unsafe, alternative, or just down right gross. Professionals in my field have to fight to be recognized as legitimate, and to be regarded as the experts we are. For countless years hospitals have profited off of the property and sacred organs of their patients, and the medical community has refused to give us tangible evidence that supports the anecdotal evidence and THAT is The Problem With Birth.
Let me know what y'all think of this episode. Have you thought about placenta encapsulation, or even burial? Did you have any idea that placentas are used in your everyday products? I want to hear about what experiences you've had with placentas.
If you want even more information on the role of placentas then I highly recommend reading the book Placenta: The Gift Of Life. As always you can submit questions or topic suggestions on the website at theproblemwithbirth.com and the transcript of this episode will be available on my business blog at etxbirthco.com
Please remember to share, share, share this episode with everyone you know, leave a review, rate it 5 stars on apple podcasts, and connect with me on social media! You can find me on instagram or facebook by searching East Texas Birth Co. I'll be back on your speakers next week discussing an all new topic on The Problem With Birth.