Support Through the Ebb and Flow of the Childbearing Year

Placenta Encapsulation:
Frequently Asked Questions

In the past few years of doing placenta work, there are a few questions that I'm asked repeatedly by email or over the phone. This is my attempt to give you more information you might be looking for, without having to wait to hear back from me. Of course I am always happy to go into more detail with you or address your individual situation.

"Do you do the preparation at my house, or your own facility?" and
"Some encapsulators say they'll only work at my house; why is this?"

Many other encapsulators work exclusively in their clients' homes. I am open to doing so, but usually I do them at my place. I've taken Bloodborne Pathogens training for birth workers and placenta handlers, and follow OHSA regulations. All my equipment is placenta-only, and I fully sanitize my kitchen before and after each preparation. The main reason is about timing: it's best to begin preparations within 24 hours, and this way allows me to do so every time. My clients who birth in hospitals or birth centers generally aren't even home yet by the 24 hour mark. Most folks don't want someone in their homes when they aren't there, and arranging for someone to be home for the preparation can be a hassle when you are still away. It's also much quicker for me to do it here because I don't have to set aside an entire day in order to fit it all in one trip, but can break the process into chunks and fit it in more easily with my other obligations. Saving my own time like this also lets me keep the cost a bit lower.

To be honest, people are generally relieved that they don't have to deal with the preparation, and their kitchen stays clean when they really just want things to be easy. However, some folks are interested in watching or participating, and then I'm happy to do it at your place.

One main reason I'm in the minority for offering off-site preparation is that many of the other encapsulators come from the same lineage of training, which teaches preparation exclusively at the client's home. I learned from midwives in Hawaii and Oregon and some friends I have in other states, plus a lot of research, and put together a system that works for me. Another difference is the choice of herbs for TCM method. Usually you'll find people using ginger, lemon, and jalepeño: they are following a recipe that has been passed down through midwives since I think the 70's. I make sure I use Asian hot peppers and I use lemongrass instead of lemon, after discussions with friends who are acupuncturists and specialize in Chinese herbs. I think lemongrass may have been accidentally switched to lemon somewhere along the line, though I have no evidence that this was the case. Lemon isn't really used in TCM, but lemongrass is just about perfect for postpartum, and I feel good about this decision.

"I'm having my baby in the hospital. Is there anything specific I should do?"

I recommend telling your care providers that you intend to keep your placenta and that you don't want any chemicals or contaminants, and putting it in your written birth plan if you have one. You don't have to tell them what you're going to do with it, if you'd rather not say, but everyone needs to know THAT you want it, because their default is to take it to pathology, where it can be exposed to other people's tissues and filled with formaldehyde, not things you want to ingest!

Many hospitals around Portland are good about being willing to hold placentas in the fridge, but I usually advise folks to bring a little picnic cooler just in case. They will double bag it and will happily bring you ice for the cooler. I tend to be overly cautious, but it's always really sad when some staff member takes it away without knowing.

The other hospital-specific piece of advice I have is to look into the benefits of delayed cord clamping for your baby. Home birth and freestanding birth center midwives generally delay cord clamping as a matter of course, but the hospital default is to clamp and cut the cord immediately, leaving about a third of your baby's blood in the placenta. When I prepare a placenta for encapsulation, I can nearly always tell when the cord was clamped right away, because there's so much more baby blood to drain out. If you decide that delayed clamping is right for your family, you will have to tell your hospital care team, probably repeatedly. OBs often need to be reminded once more right after the baby comes, because it's so automatic for them.

"If I have an epidural or a Cesarean, can I still encapsulate my placenta?"

Yes, please! The drugs that they use for epidurals and such have a really short half-life, so they wouldn't be present any more by the time you're taking the capsules. The placenta will still be good and still be effective. Also, if you do have a cesarean, you would benefit even more from taking the placenta, as you should expect a steeper recovery with almost always more blood loss. Cesareans can also make nursing more difficult, so the added milk support can be helpful then, too. Cesarean clients (and those who had otherwise really hard labors) might also consider having a little bit in smoothies for the first few days, instead of waiting until the capsules are ready, just because their bodies are more depleted, etc.

And one more thing: with surgical births, they are even more likely to take the placenta to pathology, so you or someone else would have to be sure to remind them pretty much right when baby is born.

Still More Information

I sometimes write blog posts relating to placenta work. Feel free to check out all my posts tagged placenta. Some of these posts include photos.

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