Placentophagy- eating of the placenta after giving birth.
I see placenta’s every day working in Labor & Delivery. A few minutes after the baby is delivered, the placenta will be expelled from the uterus. It is then handed to the Obstetrician Technician and she will dispose of it in the biohazard waste unless the doctor wants to send it to pathology for testing. Never once have I asked my patient if she would like me to pack her placenta up in a cooler or have I offered her a knife and a fork. To be fair, none of them have ever asked me to either.
Although, I wonder what my reaction would be if my patient did ask me to hand over her placenta and find her some hot sauce! After all, eating your own placenta is like the ultimate circle of life (cues Lion King theme song). So today I want to take a little time to review or introduce, the practice we know as placentophagy.
Kourtney Kardashian may have brought placentophagy to the spotlight but she certainly was not the first woman to ingest her own afterbirth. The first documented accounts of women in North America eating their placenta was in the 1970’s. But this is something that has be documented with Traditional Chinese Medicine since the 16th century! The Chinese would ingest dried placenta to treat ailments such as impotence, infertility, fatigue and kidney problems.
Research shows that mammals in the wild ingest their placentas postpartum as a way to protect their young from predators by getting rid of the smell of the birth. Some scientist also believe that the act of eating the placenta immediately after giving birth does give these mammals some essential nutrients and replenishment.
But what does this mean for human mommies today?
Supporters of placentophagy list the following benefits:
Balancing hormones. The act of giving birth depletes a woman of many things including a major drop in certain hormones. Ingesting your hormone rich placenta will re-introduce those hormones back into the body to help achieve a healthy balance.
Decrease the chance of postpartum depression. The placenta is an excellent source of iron and B6. Many women are iron deficient after having a baby, which leads to fatigue. Fatigue is one of the factors that contributes to depressive symptoms. Many believe that placentophagy can improve the new mom’s state of emotion and give her increased energy during her postpartum period.
Decrease postpartum bleeding. The placenta contains oxytocin, which is a hormone that helps decrease bleeding after having a baby by triggering the uterus to contract. Ingesting the placenta is thought to help the uterus heal quicker.
Increasing your milk supply. Another two hormones found in the placenta is Human Placental Lactogen and Prolactin. These hormones help to prime the mammary glands and stimulate milk production. Many mothers believe that ingesting the placenta helps their “milk come in” and increases their supply.
All of these benefits do sound legit! But some researchers argue that there is no real reason to participate in this practice other than to say you did it.
The truth is, there is not a lot of significant research to support or disapprove placentophagy. There have not been many controlled studies done on the human consumption of placentas. Furthermore, the beneficial nutrients may be eliminated in the process of preparing you placenta for ingestion.
Another issue some scientist have with ingesting placentas is the question of safety. There is no FDA regulating the preparation of placentas. Women often have their placenta’s prepared and encapsulated by companies who do not adhere to any specific standards in preparation. Some women entrust placenta preparation to their midwives or family members.
Last year, the CDC reported a case where a newborn contracted GBS (group B Streptococcus agalactiae) through the breastmilk of his mother who ate her encapsulated placenta postpartum.
The general consensus in the “medical world” seems to be that there is no proof of significant benefits to placentophagy but there is a legitimate concern for the safety of the mother’s and infants who participate in the practice.
I’ve had a lot of readers ask me how to go about preparing ones placenta for ingestion. I’ve found the following ways:
Have your placenta encapsulated. There are different companies who will do this for a nominal fee. Some midwives offer this service to their patients, and some new mom. Once you receive your capsules you take it like you would a vitamin.
Make a smoothie. Some women choose to make a drink with their placentas, adding fruits and veggies for a healthy snack.
Raw. Of course you could just eat your placenta like mammals do in the wild. This option may seem a bit barbaric to some, not to mention the gruesome thought of eating a bloody organ. But this method would appear to hold on to the maximum nutritional benefits.
Bake it. Lastly, and perhaps reserved for the most creative souls, opt to make this a culinary adventure. I found numerous recipes for preparing your placenta from placenta lasagna to placenta truffles!
Like all things women’s health, the decision to eat your placenta should be an individual choice. If you do choose to eat your placenta I think that you should do your own research and make a conscious decision of what you are doing, assess the risk and determine what is the best method to use. I also advise against consuming your placenta if you have any infectious diseases prior to pregnancy including GBS and chorioamnionitis. And last but maybe most importantly of all, if you do join the ranks of placentophagist, please tag me in your pictures! I would love to see your preparation and know your story!
From your friendly neighborhood nurse