Doula: Placenta Pills Can Help Postpartum Depression

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Anne Ferguson’s days are decidedly normal for a mother of two, balancing the rush of preschool and peanut butter sandwiches. She lives in a two-story corner suburban home. She wears a pink apron in her kitchen.

Any assumed stereotypes will stop when you see what’s cooking on her countertop.

“In here goes half a lemon, jalapeno pepper, and some ginger slices,” Ferguson said, pointing to a stockpot, which just hours ago steamed a mother’s placenta.

Ferguson is a doula, or birth coach, and handles up to 10 placentas a month in her kitchen. She walks over to the dehydrator, where the placenta has been processing overnight.

“And what you get, are these really thin dry strips of placenta,” said Ferguson.

The sliced, dried organ now resembles beef jerky, and is then placed in the Magic Bullet, ground into a fine powder and then capped in a small pill.

The process is known as placenta encapsulation.

“So what a lot of moms are choosing to do now is take their placenta home after they have a new baby, and have it prepared into these little capsules that they can then ingest,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson already knows what you may be thinking.

“Every little bit is going to help this mama,” she said. “The only really negative reaction is really just the ick. People think gross. What?! But I’ve experienced almost everyone comes around very quickly,” she said.

Ferguson began offering placenta encapsulation as part of her doula services more than a year ago, and tried the process herself after the birth of her second son.

The placenta is the connection between mother and baby inside the womb. It’s a temporary organ your body creates, and feeds babies nutrients through the umbilical cord. It also allows the transfer of essential nutrients, oxygen, water and waste between the mother and the baby.

The placenta also releases hormones called oxytocin that help contract the uterus and help with bleeding during birth.

Ferguson said putting those nutrients back into your body helps the post-partum period, when fluctuating hormones can spark depression.

“Many mothers have found it gives them more energy, believed to help with milk supply, increase your iron levels,” said Ferguson, who says it makes sense biologically. “Almost all mammals eat their placenta right after they give birth. They just do. And, many moms after they give birth are really, really hungry, and that’s kind of our animal side, telling us to eat our placenta.”

Ferguson said anecdotally she hears about people cooking placenta into food, and once, she put placenta in a smoothie after a birth. Placenta consumption, known as placentophagy, is common in some cultures.

But, she said the majority of her clients are first-time moms, like 35-year-old Stephanie Johnson of St. Paul, who first heard about placenta encapsulation from another expecting mom on a hospital tour.

“My immediate thought, is what is she talking about? That sounds disgusting!,” said Johnson with a laugh, never imagining she would end up saving her placenta.

Then Johnson and her husband realized her family history could threaten the bond with her new baby girl, 4-month-old Harper.

“My grandmother, my mother and one of my sisters have had postpartum depression, and one of the things taking your placenta can do is help prevent that,” said Johnson.

So she turned to Ferguson and since has taken a placenta pill nearly every day since her daughter’s birth.

“I tend to be a pretty emotional person, and I have felt pretty even keel, which I was not expecting to feel after I had given birth so I do feel it has helped,” she said.

As a long-time nurse and midwife, Sara Pearce knows help is critical. That’s why she opened up the Amma Parenting Center in Edina, which offers support groups and classes for expecting parents and new moms, many of whom are struggling with postpartum depression.

“People die from postpartum depression,” she said. “The research tells us that about 20 percent of women will undergo not just the baby blues, but true postpartum depression. And, only 15 percent of those seek treatment, so it tends to be quite a silent condition.”

Pearce is a survivor herself. But as she meets more moms who consume their placentas, Pearce worries about the lack of science.

“What’s harmful is dependence on something that at this stage is pretty much a wives’ tale. I could find no studies that have been done on it, there’s no research that supports it,” she said.

The Food and Drug Administration said it doesn’t keep tabs on the practice “given that human tissue is not ‘food’ or a ‘dietary ingredient'” and that it may transmit disease.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said it doesn’t have an opinion since it’s a largely unregulated practice without studies.

Pearce said at best, research shows the placebo effect can be powerful. She warns truly depressed mothers should first seek professional help.

“If a woman relies on placental ingestion to treat a serious illness when the jury really isn’t in on it, she could get worse. I would encourage women that are in the neighborhood to seek the nearest exit, and the nearest exit will usually be found by reaching out to professional mental health providers,” said Pearce.

Like the FDA, Pearce is also concerned about the safe handling of an organ that could carry blood-borne disease.

“It’s the whole concept of an organ being taken to a home. They are organs so they hold HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C. If a mistake happens and somebody gets the wrong tissue, I would really be concerned about safety,” she said.

In her kitchen, Ferguson shows us her sanitary precautions, using sanitized utensils and bleach. She said she’s taken a blood borne pathogen training online certification.

When she’s finished, one placenta usually makes around 120 pills for a $150 fee. She said at least a dozen other doulas in the Twin Cities area offer the same service.

Ferguson said she realizes the pills aren’t a magical protection, but she sees placenta encapsulation as just one piece in the puzzle during the postpartum period.

“I’m just a mom who has had two kids, and I know how it goes. I want to help people and support them through that time. What I tell people that are squeamish or have that ick factor, which a lot of people do, I say I understand that, but at the end, it’s just a like a vitamin. Even if you consume your placenta, you are still going to have hard days, it just makes it go more smoothly,” said Ferguson.

Stephanie Johnson said her placenta pills helped her face a dose of reality.

“My mom was actually hospitalized for postpartum depression when she had me,” said Johnson.

Now as a mom herself, she’s learned prevention may be the most precious practice of all.

“I am glad we made the decision to do it. I think if we have additional children, I would do it again,” said Johnson.

Women in Minnesota experiencing postpartum depression should contact Pregnancy and Postpartum Minnesota. They have a Crisis Connection Help Line, at (612) 787-PPSM and return calls within 24 hours. You can also email

  • Catherine

    Shame on Sara Pearce – no referrals from me… Really as if encapsulators would recommend to ingest with a history of infections or counsel that taking these would somehow totally “cure” post-partum depression. It’s the women’s practitioner responsibility to make an evaluation and get a mama to the right people. Get educated yourself…

    Also, everyone knows there is no money to be made to research this.

    You go Anne and the others – take pride in your education and skill in providing another level of care for our mamas.

    • Allison

      Yes, I thought that Sara Pearce’s comments were a little off-base as well. Placenta encapsulation is not being used to “treat” anything. Like Anne said, it’s just another tool in the toolbox for postpartum.

      • Cok

        I am new to this idea of itsngeing your placenta. I had seen it on a few youtube videos as i was researching home birth, and thought it was gross. But then my doula gave me a book regarding the healing power of the placenta it was an eye opener. Although I cannot say that I have decided for sure what I’m going to do, I will say that the effects of itsngeing it sound wonderful! Increased milk supply, shrinking your uterus in a few days as opposed to a few weeks, lots of energy, ect. sound lovely to me as this is my 3rd child I have 2 busy toddlers to keep care of as well as myself! I don’t believe I have dealt with postpartum with either of my other births, but we all know each time can be so different! In my opinion if I could prevent it, that would be better than having to cure it The idea of encapsulating sounds nice, but it’s also a lot of work to do, so if I go ahead with this it will probably be just in the form of shakes for the first few days.

    • Sara Pearce

      Catherine, I am highly educated with almost 20 years in the field of women’s health. I did a lot of research for this interview. From what we are able to discern, this practice is not harmful, and some women do report that it has made them feel better. If women say that, I believe them. My point was rather that the harm can come in the delay of treatment using modalities we know are effective, and both hospitals and alternative practitioners have been guilty of omission of care. Responsible doulas are careful to tell mothers that it’s not a treatment, and the vast majority of doulas are excellent caregivers.

      • Catherine

        Thank you for addressing what so many of us in the OOH (out of hospital) birth community were thinking…

        • Catherine

          Also, I have am highly educated with almost 30 years in the field of women’s health…

  • Kandace

    This is a wonderful option for those who are able to do it. I had my placenta encapsulated by my homebirth midwife (local here in the Twin Cities). I started taking them but unfortunately had to stop as my daughter I found was reacting to dairy, and dairy was in my system when the placenta came out so I didn’t want to take any chances. If I had another baby I would have my placenta encapsulated in a heartbeat!

    I think there are other positive aspects to ingesting placenta after birth, besides emotional help. My understanding is it also helps replenish nutrients.

  • Lisa w.

    Why do other mammals eat their placenta? Do you think the smell of blood in the wild might have something to do with it? It’s an instinctual way to keep their newborn safe from predators, Ms. Ferguson! Western woman can eat up until the time they give birth & immediately after if they want… with no predators in sight, so the hunger thing is a poor argument. After you dehydrate a placenta, do you really think that a lot of the “goodies” are still present? The placenta is a lot like a liver, so I am skeptical as to what’s left in that jerky! This placebo is just another new-age gimmick for woman who think their pregnancy, delivery & postpartum experience is the first & most precious event the world has ever experienced. Perhaps you should encourage these women to concentrate more on making a parenting plan with their partner so they can successfully raise their children to be healthy, productive & kind citizens in our ever-changing world.

    • Anne F.

      To each mother, her pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience IS the most precious event the world has ever experienced. Those experiences stay with you for life. Also, I imagine after mammals give birth in the wild there is still amniotic fluid and blood that is on the ground that predators could also pick up on. So no, I don’t think the only reason mammals each their placenta is to cover up the birth.

    • Kris

      I used to think that about fooling predators, too,. But it doesn’t play out. Predators can still smell the newborns and they are a largely defenseless prey. so, I’m gonna err on the side of human history (placentas are still consumed in present day cultures), the fact that we are still mammals and the positive reviews of mamas who have benefited.

      Also, I would think dehydration mostly just takes out water and leaves something of value intact. Otherwise, all the grains and dried fruits and pasta we eat would be of no value.

      • Catherine

        Absolutely, don’t astronauts eat dehydrated foods and serious campers/hikers?

    • Mama Meena

      Wow, reaching a little far? From taking a pill, to not being a good parent, really? “These women” are very capable, successful, and raising perfectly productive children.

  • Cheri

    Lisa, I don’t know your history, but as a woman who has a fantastic support system and partner, I still had PPD. I took medication and it helped immensely. Had I known about placenta encapsulation at the time, I would have partnered it with my meds.

    Also, most western hospitals do not allow laboring women to eat, even though it’s an antiquated policy put in place before the epidural. Hospitals don’t want women to do things different from what they know, for the most part. Just because it’s not mainstream, doesn’t mean it’s a bad, dangerous thing. Every mother I know who has looked beyond the mainstream for their birth(s) has done their research and knows what it right for them and their families.

  • Bpath

    I agree with Lisa. I think it’s BS, but if it works through a placebo affect, then great. But it’s still BS to me. There’s a sucker born every minute! (pun intended)
    By the way, the whole idea of this is revolting. Isn’t this akin to caniballism? Oops, I just threw up in my mouth a little.

    • Cheri

      Definition of CANNIBALISM
      : the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being
      : the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind

      Nobody is eating flesh and nobody is eating another human.

      And to imply that people who try things that aren’t in your realm of comfort are “suckers” is ridiculous. I’m sure there are things you do that others don’t agree with, but you still do them because they work for you. That doesn’t make you a sucker, it makes you secure in your abilities to make your own decisions based on your experiences.

    • Mama Meena

      I think they make bibs for that.

  • Mama Meena

    Perhaps other mammals eat their placentas to recoup lost blood and iron which is needed in the postpartum period to prevent anemia which helps increase energy. Of course more research needs to be done to figure out just what and how much of nutrients and hormones are in a dried placenta, but I believe one of the “goodies” still left is iron. Iron is difficult for many people to take, so why not take what your own body produced? Personally, I found it easier to take the placenta pill, over traditional iron supplements.

    We are well nourished mammals, but some women actually lose their appetites in the post-partum period (as I did). Also consider…the FDA does not regulate ANY vitamins or supplements…not their safe handling, not their ingredients, not their claims, not their marketing. Yet people still take vitamins without question…their could be risks or placebo effect in both instances, so don’t discount the placenta pill just because people like fear mongering.

    • Catherine

      Thank you Mama Meena. Michel Odent talks about all the great hormones of Love: oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin (can’t remember the 4th). Why wouldn’t we want to nourish their body after baby is born? Understandably, there may be times it would not be appropriate. We had a mama who had a very strange skin condition during the last 2-3 weeks of pregnancy. Once the baby was born, it resolved; but once she began her capsules, it returned. So probably not a good thing for her in that regard and she stopped taking the caplets.

  • Liz

    I used Anne’s placenta encapsulation for my third baby. I noticed that this time around I feel a lot more relax even though I now have 3 kids. So, that says a lot for me. The taste was a little strange at first but otherwise I have zero complaints. If I were to have another I would definately do it again :).

  • luvs

    Cannibalism at it’s finest.

    • Catherine

      Get real…

  • AML

    I think this is a great option for those women who have history or are at high risk for PPD. Anyone who has suffered of PPD or even severe baby blues would try to do what they can to PREVENT them from happening again. Prescription medicine to treat PPD are effective but they don’t come without risks.

    Anne encapsulated my placenta and I am glad I did it. I believed it contributed to me having a much better postpartum period this time around.

    This is definitely not an option for everyone, but I am glad that is out there for those who need it.

  • Connie

    I was skeptical at first, but decided to go ahead with having my placenta encapsulated once I did a bit more of my own research. It’s not a new-age practice, but in fact a traditional chinese medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years.

    Each woman can make this decision for herself and her family and I plan to use Anne’s services for my 2nd child as well.

    CBS – thank you for running this story!
    Anne – thanks for providing this service!

  • Lagerhops


  • Liz

    I took my encapsulated placenta pills – and here was the difference:

    1st baby (no ecapsulation)
    -drastically low milk supply
    -Post Partum Depression and Anxiety
    -Long healing and bleeding (lochia) time (18 weeks)
    -low energy and high pain after birth for weeks

    2nd baby (encapsulated)
    -Milk supply MAGICALLY enough with some to save in freezer!
    -No depression, anxiety or other abnormal mood issues
    -bleeding (lochia) stopped week 2!
    -energy through the roof!
    -pain/swelling gone after 4 days!

    I don’t need a study – I’ll be doing it and suggesting it to others from here on out without question.

    Anne – I support you, encourage you, and applaud your courage in bringing this to the mainstream.

  • what are mao inhibitors

    depression badly affect the placenta which defensively effect the birth.
    so it has to declare the depression first.

  • Ali P.

    I echo the comments of the women who have had positive post-partum experiences while consuming their encapsulated placentas. Whether placebo or not, it worked for me and I will continue to hedge my bets by partnering with Anne for the births of my future children as well. Women should, of course, always clear the use of these capsules with her healthcare provider as they would with any supplement. But it is my opinion that if they help ensure a happy mama, they will in turn help ensure healthy, happy babies…

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