The placenta is a pancake-shaped organ designed to act as an exchange between the mother’s and baby’s blood supply. Not only does it produce the “pregnancy hormones” of chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), estrogen, and progesterone, it is also responsible for trading nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s blood to the fetus and moving the waste products back out again.
When you deliver your baby, the placenta is also delivered (it’s sometimes called the afterbirth). While this organ is typically disposed of following birth, a growing number of women are finding additional usages for the placenta. A few of the options include the following:
- Burn treatments/wound care — The placenta’s amniotic membrane or thin, skin-like texture has applications in treating wounds, especially burn wounds. Once the placenta is harvested, companies will preserve it in liquid nitrogen, silver nitrate, antibiotic solutions, or other preservation methods for creating treatments later. When cleaned and prepared, the membrane is placed on burns. According to the book Skin Grafts – Indications, Applications and Current Research, amniotic membrane has been shown to reduce inflammation, increase formation of new blood vessels, and promote rapid growth of new skin tissue. Application of amniotic membrane has also been shown to increase the adherence of skin grafts to treat burns and reduce post-burn complications.
- Placenta burial — Cultures including the Navajo and the Maori of New Zealand bury a placenta as a ceremonial means to honor a baby’s birth. The placenta is buried in a special location and often covered by a tree or flower that is meaningful to a family.
- Placenta encapsulation—Placenta encapsulation involves taking a portion of the mother’s placenta, steaming, and cooking it before grinding it into a powder form before it is placed in a capsule or pill form. Midwives or companies who specialize in placenta encapsulation can perform this task. The theory behind placenta encapsulation is that the mother is increasing her hormone levels after birth because the placenta manufactures her pregnancy hormones. By increasing hormones and also taking in the nutrients found in the placenta, placenta encapsulation advocates claim women will feel better and are less likely to report depression. Some women will save the placenta pills for a life change, such as menopause, where hormone levels have dropped. Few research studies have examined the benefits of placenta encapsulation. Therefore, placenta encapsulation has not been proven to offer its supposed benefits. Some women simply say they feel better taking the supplements while others say the did not reduce symptoms.
- Placenta salve — Midwives and herbalists may choose to create placenta salves, which are lotion or cream-like treatments applied to the skin and scarred areas to promote healing. Women have applied these salves to surgical scars, perineal tears, or areas of especially dry or sensitive skin. Placenta salves’ benefits have not been proven. Note also that women should not apply the salve to open areas of skin, since this could increase the risk for infection.
- Placenta tinctures — Placenta tinctures are a liquid medication form. A portion of the placenta is steeped in alcohol, such as vodka or brandy, and placed in a container for six weeks or more. The liquid is then strained to create a tincture. While not recommended for daily use, some women place a certain number of drops of tincture in a glass of water, taking it two to three times per day. The tinctures have been utilized to treat emotional concerns, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and menopause symptoms. Just as with many other placenta products, placenta tinctures have not been proven to offer distinct benefits. Always speak to your physician before taking placenta tinctures.
- Placentophagy (eating one’s placenta) — Some women believe consuming one’s placenta offers similar benefits to placenta encapsulation. Additionally, placentophagy is thought to increase blood volume after pregnancy in women who may have lost a significant amount of blood during the birthing process. The placenta should be handled as raw meat is — it should be refrigerated and thoroughly cooked before consuming. Women may choose to “cook” the placenta in various stews or other recipes. Just as with placenta encapsulation, no evidence exists to suggest that placentophagy will work to reduce postpartum symptoms. Additionally, women with preeclampsia may not wish to consume their placentas because they could contain harmful, inflammatory proteins.
Before You Deliver
Many states and hospitals have specific policies regarding the salvaging and storing of a placenta after giving birth. Because the placenta is an organ, and a meat-like organ, it must be properly stored to avoid causing an infection if a mother should ingest it. Some states require you have a legal release form for the placenta prior to your delivery. Always check with the hospital to determine if you will require any legal paperwork, should you wish to save the placenta.
Also, it is important to note that it is dangerous to consume the placenta of another woman, even in capsule form. Eating another woman’s placenta increases risk for disease transmission.
Reviewed by Jennifer Lincoln, March 2020
- The placenta is an organ used to nourish a baby that is delivered with the baby.
- Additional, unproven uses for the placenta include using it as a salve, taking it in pill form, eating the placenta, or drinking it as a tincture.
- The placenta has been shown to promote wound healing when specially prepared for burn victims.