It seems everyone’s jumping on the placenta-eating bandwagon. Since Mad Men actress January Jones encapsulated her placenta in 2011, it’s become a postnatal trend.
The practice is scientifically known as placentophagy (or placentophagia). Eating your afterbirth is said to ward off postpartum depression, aid breast milk supply, replenish energy, lessen postpartum bleeding and pain, and restore iron. Some mothers swear by the results, claiming placenta consumption provided a speedy recovery from the pregnancy and birth. Still, not all mothers and researchers are convinced.
You’ve heard the pros, now consider the cons. These 15 reasons may cause you to reconsider eating your placenta.
15 It Could Be Tainted
Also known as the afterbirth, the placenta is a round, flat organ formed during pregnancy. It connects the baby to the mother, providing oxygen and nutrients while keeping the bloodstreams separate. In essence, it’s a guard that helps the baby to thrive inside of the uterus.
The placenta also acts as a filter. Not only does it remove waste from the baby’s blood, it also filters toxic, environmental metals such as mercury and lead. These pollutants are absorbed by the placenta.
Besides heavy metals, the placenta can become contaminated during childbirth. In and around the mother’s vagina, the placenta can pick up bacteria, bodily fluids, and feces as it exits the body. In short, the afterbirth is not sterile, and could be harmful if ingested.
14 “We’re the Only Mammals” Argument
Advocates of placentophagy remind us that most other mammals eat their raw placentas and the cords after birth. Researchers speculate that animals do this for two reasons.
To Hide From Predators
The blood, the scent, and the decomposition of the organ would attract meat-eaters in the wild. Since it would be a dead giveaway to the position of the new mother and baby, the organ is devoured immediately after birth.
To Reduce Pain
A mother dog, for example, may feed on her placenta and lap up the amniotic fluid to reduce labor pains. But, the dog will eat the raw placenta immediately after birth. This is not what most new mothers are doing. Many women process the placenta or continue eating it months after birth.
While advocates compare this practice to animals, it is not translatable into human use.
13 It Needs “Food Safe” Storage
If you plan to consume your placenta after birth, it will need almost immediate refrigeration. Within three hours or so, the placenta will need to be placed in a cold storage unit such as a portable cooler with ice. Like meat, a placenta will spoil. Even a cooked placenta will need to be consumed within a few days. A placenta can also be frozen but the longer it’s in the freezer, the fewer benefits it will carry.
You wouldn’t cook a chicken breast after the raw meat was sitting on a counter all day. No matter how you decide to process the placenta, it will need to be preserved quickly and carefully to prevent spoilage and sickness.
12 It Could Spread Illness
To prepare it for consumption, there are a few steps you need to take. You have to:
- Remove the umbilical cord
- Cut away the membranes
- Press out the blood
- Clean it
- Thoroughly rinse until it’s pink
Even with the aforementioned preparation, placenta-eating may spread infection if eaten raw. Human tissue can carry viruses. That’s why some hospitals do not allow you to take your placenta because it’s considered bio-hazardous material. Bacteria and viruses from a placenta may pose a risk of illness, especially to a nursing infant.
11 Hiring a Specialist is Expensive
If you prefer not to prepare your vascular organ for eating, you can hire a Certified Placenta Arts Specialist who is trained in food safety. This specialist will ensure proper handling, storage, and processing in the comfort of your home. This service does not come cheap, though; hiring a specialist will cost around $250 U.S.
10 The Unpleasant Taste and Odor
According to some women, a raw placenta tastes a little bloody and has a mealy texture. To others, it has an overwhelming metallic smell.
Because of the offensive taste and the aroma, some women find to necessary to eat them like oysters by swallowing small portions whole—no chewing involved. Blending the placenta into a fruit smoothie can disguise the strong iron taste, and make it easier to swallow. Drying the placenta into pill form has become the most popular method of placentophagy, which makes sense if mothers are trying to mask the unpleasant taste and odor.
9 You May Not Reap the Intended Benefits
To make eating placenta more palatable, “chefs” have come up with cookbooks. Human placenta can be prepared in a variety of ways:
- In a smoothie
- Sautéed with onions
- Made into a pâté
- Made into a lasagna
If you prefer to consume your placenta in pill form, the placenta needs to be boiled or steamed, dehydrated, ground into a powder, and placed into capsules. But because it has to undergo such processing, the pills do not provide the same benefits as consuming the raw tissue.
There’s a big difference between consuming a raw placenta directly after childbirth, and drying it or freezing it for later use. The preparation method can degrade the nutrients and hormones, negatively affecting the potency.
8 The Placebo Effect
A survey of 189 new mothers revealed that most participants experienced positive results after eating their placentas. In fact, their experiences were so positive, they would do it again following subsequent pregnancies. While a placebo-controlled study has not been conducted to determine the effectiveness of placenta consumption, scientists are aware that the brain possesses a power that can bring about a healing process if they feel something is being done.
In spite of its increasing popularity, there is little scientific evidence that placentophagy supports its backers’ claims. Surveys of this kind are based on personal experience, not science.
7 Postpartum Depression
Did you know that 1 in 7 new mothers experience postpartum depression?
In an attempt to embrace healthier alternatives, some new mothers choose placenta consumption as treatment of the baby blues. But clinically diagnosed PPD is a medical condition. Relying solely on the placenta can be dangerous if a mother is in need of professional help.
6 The In-Thing
Celebrity endorsements have given placentophagy a definite boost. Since January Jones, Alicia Silverstone, and the Kardashian sisters praised the benefits of their placenta pills, other moms have followed their lead. But these are subjective reports. The fact remains there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
5 Expelled Organ
Without a doubt, the placenta is a marvelous organ but contamination is a real threat. Would mothers be as enthusiastic to drink amniotic fluid smoothies? The bottom line: Should something that exits the body re-enter? Not only could it harm a postpartum body, it could also harm a breastfeeding baby.
4 Eating Placenta Destroys Hormones
Placenta-eating advocates claim the practice is beneficial to reabsorb lost hormones after delivery. For example, after the baby’s birth but before the placenta is delivered, the hormone oxytocin is at its highest level in the mother’s bloodstream. Naked mother-newborn contact further releases oxytocin, which stimulates the uterus. Contractions of the womb help close the blood vessels and separate the placenta from the uterine wall. The hormone will remain in the expelled placenta.
If ingested, however, oxytocin is destroyed by the digestive system. This is why the hormone is always given by injection or inhalation. These methods bypass the metabolism of the liver. But trying to absorb oxytocin through eating does not work.
3 Negative Side Effects
Some women have reported negative effects after ingesting encapsulated placentas. Their side effects included:
- A dried up milk supply
- Increased vaginal bleeding
- Increased uterine contractions
- Digestive issues
- An allergic itch
- Increased anxiety and jitters
- Engorged Breasts
If friends or family members also want to take the pills, make sure they know the possible symptoms that can occur.
2 Donated Placentas Can Aid Science
The life-giving organ expelled after birth can aid medical research. The placenta is a rich source of stem cells, the body’s master cells. By harvesting the stem cells of donated placentas, they can be used to treat human diseases and disorders, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
At the Toronto East General Hospital in Canada, doctors are healing damaged eyes with the help of the human placenta. After planned cesarean sections, the afterbirth is harvested to collect the amniotic membrane (or amnion) which is the inner layer of the placenta. Amnion can assist in ophthalmic surgeries, including the treatment of various eye wounds such as burns and infectious diseases.
Donating your placenta and the blood from your umbilical cord could treat future patients and save somebody’s life.
1 No Health Benefits
There’s one main reason to reconsider eating your placenta: It doesn’t carry any health benefits.
A research study from Northwestern University School of Medicine found no health benefits whether the placenta was eaten raw, cooked or encapsulated. The truth is, no scientific research confirms any benefits of human placenta consumption. And without a medical stamp of approval, experts don’t recommend it.
So, is placentophagy modern snake oil or extraordinarily beneficial? Naturally, it’s your choice if you want to eat your placenta. Just make sure you’re aware of the risks before you put it on your plate.