A pregnant woman holds her belly.
Some moms opt for placental encapsulation as a possible way to lessen the chance of developing postpartum depression. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

What happened to your placenta? Or, if you’re pregnant, are you going to do anything with it?

This may sound like a strange question, because for many births, including mine, the placenta was disposed of somewhere in the hospital. In the case of my home births, the midwife took care of it.

But have you heard about placental encapsulation? This is something more and more women are choosing to do.

We talk about placental encapsulation in our early pregnancy session at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial, and this is often the first time that many mothers hear of this topic. It is also discussed during our Preparation for Childbirth Class, offered closer to mom’s due date.

Sometimes people have heard things about placentas, like making them into smoothies. Don’t worry! That’s not what I’m talking about.

There are many ways the placenta can be consumed, however. It can be eaten raw, cooked in a stir-fry, dehydrated alone, made into a tincture, or dehydrated and encapsulated in a pill.

The most common way is the dehydration into a pill. This is what I’m talking about.

This topic has even been in Hollywood.

Kim Kardashian, in her reality TV show, asked her doctor about this placental encapsulation, and according to entertainment news media, she opted for this approach. Holly Madison, a former star of “Girls Next Door,” also did placental encapsulation. In 2012, January Jones also said she used placental encapsulation after the birth of her child, and she felt it contributed to more energy.

Why would anyone want to do this? According to placentabenefits.info, it is believed that placental encapsulation can:

  • Balance the mother’s hormone system and help prevent postpartum depression.
  • Give the mother more energy.
  • Increase milk production.
  • Help mom return to pre-pregnant size quicker.
  • Replenish depleted iron.

We also know that the placenta contains vitamins and what’s known as a corticoptopin-releasing hormone.

According to a study performed by the National Institutes of Health: “During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes so much hormone that the levels in the bloodstream increase threefold. However, it was also discovered that postpartum women have lower than average levels of hormone, triggering depressive symptoms.”

Researchers concluded that the placenta secreted so much hormone, the hypothalamus stopped producing it. Eating the placenta, then, could raise mom’s hormone levels and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression.

There is, to date, no double-blind study to prove encapsulation helps. I don’t think that will be possible because we can’t have the same woman have the same baby in the exact same situation, using medication one time and placental encapsulation another.

That said, there are many moms who believe this really helped them avoid postpartum depression, or it at least helped them lessen its severity.

At all Spectrum Health hospitals, we have a policy in place for moms who wish to keep their placenta.

Susan Wente, CNM at Gerber Memorial, said she has seen firsthand where patients have chosen this option to help combat postpartum depression. Nancy Roberts, RNC, CCE, Spectrum Health Postpartum Emotional Support Program, said Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital has also had moms ask for their placentas.

While it seems there are many potential positives to this, there are no known negatives.