Absurd Adventures in Placenta Encapsulation

In-home prep: the awesome, the weird, and the reason why.

I love my job. It’s a weird job. I tell people about my job and I usually get a face that looks something like this:


But I love it. I get to meet new people. And by new people, I mean BRAND NEW PEOPLE! I get to see tiny babies during their first days of life. I get to help new moms feel their best. Help women struggling with breastfeeding, sleep, postpartum mood disorders, and just the huge sense of change and responsibility and…overwhelmedness…that comes with having a new baby.

I am a placenta encapsulation specialist. And I provide DC area placenta encapsulation in my clients’ own homes.

And you know what? I. Love. It. I feel like I am offering a service to these brand new moms rather than just a product. If nothing else, I help make their postpartum life a little easier by making their kitchen absolutely immaculately clean.

But MAN. It can be a real struggle sometimes.

True story: One memorable day, I was in a home, going about my normal pre-prep routine: disinfecting counters and sink, setting out supplies. The mom was sleeping. The dad had gone grocery shopping after letting me in. And there was the Little Boy. A sweet, angel-faced, little cherub of a 4-year-old. And he would not leave me alone. Normally, I don’t mind curious kids, I really don’t. I have two of the extra-curious variety of my own. I have found that the best thing to do is answer any questions as simply as possible and then fervently hope they lose interest. Dad had set up a movie for Little Boy, but Little Boy was not interested in a movie. He was interested in me. More specifically, he was interested in anything in my equipment that could maim him. It took me 20 extra minutes to set up and disinfect because I was not only fielding rapid-fire questions, but I was pulling him off the table to keep him from actually climbing into the bins. I think I wasted 14 pairs of gloves. Now, I am sure he is an angel in normal circumstances. But today – less than 24 hours after baby sister made her appearance – he was not as sweet as his cherub face might lead you to expect. After finally getting him settled on the couch, I was able to get down to the actual business of preparing the placenta. I lost track of Little Boy, thinking his silence meant he had been lulled into a gentle TV stupor. Apparently, being a mom of two has taught me exactly NUTHIN’. I set down my knife mid-placenta-slicing to adjust my continually fogging safety glasses and he swooped in and swiped the knife from the cutting board. And he licked it. He licked the knife. Then he dropped it on the floor and ran away.

Do you know what Little Boy treating my prep knife as a popsicle means? That means in order to follow my strict safety protocols, I couldn’t use that knife anymore. I had to either use different one (which I didn’t happen to have on me because I disinfect my knife after each use instead of using disposable knives), or disinfect it for 10-15 minutes in a 10% bleach solution. That was another 10-15 minutes that the placenta was sitting out at room temperature, becoming more vulnerable to bacteria growth each minute.

Little Boy: 1. Placenta Lady: 0.

The upside of this story is that now I always have an extra knife in case of hygiene-impaired preschoolers. Or, as most people usually call them, “preschoolers”.

When I come to a client’s home, I have literally no idea what I am walking into. While I never felt personally unsafe, I have come across some pretty awful conditions I have to deal with before I am able to safely begin my work. Sometimes I have no counter space. Sometimes I have no light. Sometimes I have no outlets. Sometimes there are dogs the size of elephants drooling on every surface. Sometimes I have Grandma trying to make lunch while I try to disinfect the counters. I have had to wash eyeball-high stacks of dirty dishes, clean and disinfect floors drifted 6 inches deep with cat hair, keep curious toddlers out of my supply bins, shoo away pets, once there was a freaking free-range PARROT who was really interested in placenta prep.

The majority of these things are minor inconveniences that don’t affect my client in the least. And I am happy to take on a few inconveniences in order to provide a service I couldn’t otherwise provide. But sometimes, they affect the safety of the process. Like with Little Boy and the (apparently) Candy-Flavored Placenta Knife.

Does this mean I am unable to provide safe, professional services in my clients’ homes?  Well no, of course not. I do it all the time and I certainly wouldn’t provide a service that would put my reputation and livelihood at risk. It just means that there are some significant hurdles in going into someone’s home (someone who probably hasn’t had a great night’s sleep in a while and is likely not too concerned with kitchen hygiene) and keeping up safety standards.

Yet despite all of these challenges, I continue to offer my services exclusively in my clients’ homes.

When I was first trained to do this work, I was under the impression that this was the only legal way to do it. I was told that it was not only dangerous, but illegal to prep anywhere but the client’s home. After 2 years of this work, I wanted to expand my knowledge base, so I am now enrolled in a formal training with The Association for Placenta Preparation Arts (APPA). After being required to extensively research my local laws and federal regulations, I discovered that there are no laws at all regulating the preparation of placentas. None. I have been told that the FDA doesn’t want them transported across state lines, but even that seems to be a ghost regulation and I can’t find an actual citation of it anywhere. “But the placenta is an ORGAN” you say! Yes, the placenta is an organ, but after it is born it is considered a “product of conception”. Laws regulating organ transport don’t apply to products of conception (ever seen that old GREY’S ANATOMY episode when they rush off for a STAT placenta transplant? No?). In my state, the mother can take her placenta wherever she chooses or assign anyone she chooses to take it for her. So my big reason for prepping in-home was actually pretty much a non-issue

There are good reasons to exclusively prep in a client’s home. The main one, in my opinion, is not having a safe, sanitary, dedicated workspace in which to prepare them in my home.

Ah…the dedicated workspace. Separate room, stainless steel everything, deep, beautiful sinks, shelves lined with gloves and CaviWipes and parchment paper and respirators and a dedicated refrigerator and all the equipment needed to safely prep a placenta away from the distractions and inconveniences of a home with a brand new baby, two sleep deprived parents, and any number of potentially…rambunctious…siblings.

I almost didn’t think they existed. Surely, people choosing to prep in their own home didn’t have the space or time or money to create a dedicated workspace, right? They were just grabbing the placenta from their veggie bin, slapping it right down on the counter where they are going to make meatloaf later and digging in. Right?

This is what I was lead to believe, and what I thought I would have to do if I wanted to prep in my own home. And understandably, my answer to that prospect was “umm…no thank you”.  (and it should be your answer to that prospect if you are having your placenta prepared outside your home. ASK QUESTIONS about their space!)

But when I joined APPA, I started to see pictures of these fairy tale spaces. And they were…beautiful.

Take a look at this:

This is my prep space for one of my last clients:

Dc area placenta encapsulation

This is a close-up of my prep space on day two – the “put it in capsules” day. Disinfected counter covered with absorbent pad. Clean, disinfected equipment, ready for pulverizing placenta!

Pull the camera out a bit…and you see what I am sharing elbow space with. Several dirty dishes, an open jar of honey, stacks of clean dishes, foodstuffs.

This is the other counter. Let’s play “Where’s Nesco?”

Here is a shot of the sink. It is literally filled to the brim. And all the equipment still can’t be completely submerged. What does that mean? Up to 30 extra minutes to disinfect equipment properly.

Now look at this.

This is my friend’s dedicated workspace:

Close-up of a dedicated workspace getting ready for day one placenta prep. All equipment to hand, cleaning supplies and extra gloves in easy reach, disinfected, stainless steel table covered with absorbent pads.

Getting ready to prep a tincture. Again, disinfected stainless steel table covered with absorbent pads. All equipment, cleaning supplies, and personal protection gear close at hand.

What you don’t see in any of these pictures is cat hair, parrots, or knife-licking 4-year-olds. I’ve seen her sink, too. It’s deep. It could fit a preschooler.

I gotta say, I’m jealous. And I’m seriously considering if my house has space for a placenta room. If I had a dedicated workspace in my home…I could close the door. I could stop carting my stuff all around DC. I could know for a FACT that no one was going to lick my knife and drop it on the floor.

Regularly interacting with a wider range of professionals led me to realize that people with dedicated workspaces follow the exact same stringent safety protocols that I follow in my client’s home.

And now I have to say that I carry my two huge boxes of supplies in my tiny car all around the Washington DC area not because of a lingering deep belief that in-home prep is the best, or more legal, or safer, or the ONLIEST BESTEST way to do it (which I truly believed – to the point of actually vilifying people who chose to offer clients a choice of location. Some professional I was). I cart my pregnant self through the sweltering DC summer heat, carrying two huge, heavy, unwieldy boxes filled with all the various and sundry placenta preparation accoutrements to all corners of the DC metro area because…I don’t have anywhere else to do it.

After blasting my “only legal place to prep” theory out of the water, I was able to actually honestly take a real look at all the the other arguments I generally made for exclusive in-home prep. While I like that I don’t have the responsibility of being in charge of transporting my clients’ placentas (I mean, that thing is PRECIOUS), I can honestly say I would not be afraid of getting pulled over and having to explain what was in my cooler. For starters, I generally follow traffic laws. And even though I have never in all my life been pulled over (…erm…) I can honestly say I would be truly surprised to hear of someone in that situation being hit with “license, registration and contents of your cooler please.”

It also doesn’t seem to be any grosser than in-home prep. I mean, take a look at those pictures again. I’d be honored that some dedicated specialist would sully her immaculate prep space with my body fluids! The “eww, it’s gross if you take my placenta away” argument just doesn’t hold up. Plus, the mini fridge only ever holds one placenta. Any ethical encapsulator will only prep one at a time. APPA requires one placenta at a time, regardless of prep location. Sure, in-home prep makes following that requirement super easy, but if I spend hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours to train and be certified by a reputable organization, I am sure not going to screw it up and get my certification revoked by engaging in practices that are both dangerous and unprofessional.

My all-time favorite argument used to be that if I prep in your home, you can be 100% sure that the placenta you are getting is actually yours, because it stays in your possession the entire time. It was on all my marketing materials. This is a great theory! I believe you should be as sure as humanly possible that the placenta you consume is actually yours! But I cannot tell you the number of times that grandma, doula, sister, or friend has taken the placenta from mom in the hospital and transported it to the client’s home at a later point. Many hospitals in the DC area now require that the placenta be removed from the premises by two hours postpartum. That’s often a tall order for a mom and dad with a new baby. That’s when the doula offers, or the best friend swoops in, or grandma reluctantly takes the cooler home for her. Heck, I’ve taken my client’s placenta to their home for a birth client. I never stopped to consider the question of how this would be any different than me taking it to my own space. So…after some actual scrutiny, that one got the business end of my shoe, too.

So what does that leave? I prepare my clients’ placentas exclusively in their own homes because…

I have nowhere else to do it.

If I did, I would offer them the choice.

Depending on what you are looking for and your personal feelings on the matter, there are pros and cons to wherever you choose to have your placenta prepared. If you are using a trained, ethical, professional encapsulator then you have nothing to worry about, regardless of location. How do you determine if your encapsulator is such a professional? Ask questions, get references from past clients, and check out their certifying organization.


Looking for DC area placenta encapsulation? I’m your gal! Check it out!

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