BINTO Q&A With Placenta Specialist, Shawna McLaggen
Growing numbers of postpartum mothers are choosing to encapsulate and ingest their placenta, similar to taking a daily supplement. BINTO trivia: Did you know that most mammal mamas eat their entire placenta after giving birth? So, why shouldn’t humans, too?
Though there’s no existing clinical research pointing to the benefits of placenta encapsulation, the many positive testimonials are hard to ignore. But how does one even go about encapsulating a placenta? What about safety precautions? We asked Shawna McLaggan, a San Francisco-based placenta specialist, to walk us through the basics.
First, tell us about yourself. How long have you been doing this?
SM: I have three kids that are under the age of 9. I didn’t encapsulate my placenta after my first child, but I did with my others. The first time I encapsulated, my recovery time was cut in half. I was actually able to play with my elder daughter. I became trained in placenta encapsulation in 2011 and have now encapsulated 575 clients’ placentas. Additionally, I offer a comprehensive training for others interested in becoming certified through Cornerstone Doula Trainings. I’ve trained about 100 people in the Bay Area.
Thanks for sharing! OK—let’s dive in. Can you define placenta encapsulation for us?
SM: Absolutely. Placenta encapsulation is the practice of ingesting dehydrated and ground up placenta in capsule form.
Taking one step back, for those who may not be familiar with the birth process, can you tell me what a placenta is?
SM: The placenta is a temporary organ that is formed along with the baby in the womb. The placenta has a maternal side that attaches itself to the mother’s uterine wall. It also has a fetal side, which includes the cord that is connected to the baby’s belly button—the umbilical cord. The baby gets its nutrients from the mother through this cord. The mother then discards any waste through her body. After the baby is born, the placenta is then born as well. The cord can be cut at any point.
The placenta is considered a facilitator organ. Many people believe placentas are toxic because they absorb waste. But this isn’t true—waste is passed through the maternal side of the placenta and discarded through mother’s bodily functions. Really, this is an amazing organ. We all wouldn’t be here without the placenta.
Tell us more about the placenta encapsulation process. What does it entail?
SM: After the placenta is born, it needs to be on ice for a few hours before being encapsulated. Once I receive it, I take the following steps:
- The placenta is rinsed in water and weighed. Many of my clients think it’s interesting to know the weight of their placenta. They can vary in size—some are quite large while others are much smaller.
- The umbilical cord is removed from the placenta.
- Any blood gets drained from the placenta.
- The placenta is either steamed or unsteamed, depending on a client’s preference. Some clients believe that unsteamed placentas offer a more potent product. If steamed, it’s placed in 130 degree (Fahrenheit) water for 30 minutes. This gets rid of any bacteria.
- The placenta is sliced up.
- The slices are put into a food dehydrator for 24 hours at 160 degrees.
- Afterwards, all of the pieces are removed and broken into small pieces. They should snap like a cracker!
- I grind the placenta pieces up into a very fine powder.
- Lastly, I use an encapsulating machine to insert the powder into gelatin capsules. One placenta makes anywhere from 120 to 180 capsules, depending on its size.
What about dosage? What recommendations do you make to your clients in terms of how many capsules to take and at what frequency?
SM: First, I should mention that I don’t think of this as a medicine. It’s not a prescription. I advise my clients to take one or two, wait an hour, and see how they feel. The goal is to feel more energized and balanced. It’s important for them to listen to their body and then increase or decrease as needed. Most clients take the pills throughout the day during the first few weeks post-birth.
You mentioned feeling more energized and balanced. Tell us more about the benefits of ingesting the placenta.
SM: My clients report enhanced milk production, less bleeding, and less “baby blues.” But everyone’s situation is different. Some clients end up with postpartum depression and less milk, though this is rare, while others tell me they couldn’t live without it or actually have an oversupply of milk. I can’t guarantee anything and there are no studies proving these benefits. However, I do have doctors who refer their patients to me and I feel like there is a lot of support in the medical field for placenta encapsulation.
In terms of nutrients, the placenta is rich in iron and B vitamins. If clients have a lot of bleeding or are feeling super depleted, taking placenta capsules can be especially helpful. Placentas also contain hormones like oxytocin, estrogen, and progesterone. When you’re pregnant, there are so many hormones in your body. But suddenly, after birth, your body and hormones are thrown out of whack. They plummet. Your body has to adjust to a new normal. Putting these hormones back into your body can slowly help you achieve balance.
(P.S. BINTO’s supplements include vitamin B6 and specific nutrients to support hormonal balance!)
What about the drawbacks to placenta encapsulation?
SM: A woman must be very aware of the safety standards of the person she is hiring to encapsulate her placenta. Steaming the placenta at 130 degrees has been proven to kill the group b strep (GBS) infection, but many women do not want it steamed for potency reasons. My clients who choose the unsteamed method are willing to take the risk because I give them room to make an informed choice. They know that dehydrating at 160 degrees for 24 hours will also kill bacteria. But a placenta should never, under any circumstance, be dehydrated at anything less than 160 degrees in order to kill all lingering bacteria.
Placenta encapsulation is not a regulated practice yet. An encapsulator doesn’t have to hold any certifications or have any qualifications. However, I highly recommend that an encapsulator have a food safety and bloodborne illness training. These trainings indicate they follow standard practices like pulling their hair back, sterilizing equipment, and wearing gloves. It shows they understand how to kill bacteria and the role of temperature.
I also suggest women ask a potential encapsulator: “Do you follow universal precautions?” If an encapsulator follows universal precautions, they assume every placenta is infected with something. For example, I assume all of my clients’ placentas are infected with something like HIV or another STI, even if they tell me otherwise. At the end of the day, I must think like this in order to protect myself, my equipment, and my space. If the potential encapsulator doesn’t understand or can’t answer this question, it’s a red flag.
At the end of our interview, Shawna told us that she charges $275 for her services. However, prices can range anywhere from $150 to $500, depending on where you live and how many add-on services you request. Some placenta encapsulators offer clients hospital coolers, placenta photographs, umbilical cord mementos, placenta artwork, or even placenta-infused chocolates.
Whether you already enjoyed your placenta or are skeptically raising an eyebrow, learning about existing practices and products, like BINTO’s personalized supplements, that are helping many women feel stronger and happier is always a worthwhile pursuit.
Written by English Taylor. Women's health freelance writer and editor. English went to the University of Virginia undergrad and Northwestern for graduate school. She currently lives in the bay area but hails from Nashville (one of our favorite places!).