Every pregnant woman out there has joked about eating their placenta. Some have actually followed through and done it, or at least seriously researched it. It's apparently one of the latest trends. Many celebrities are doing it. Shouldn't we all be doing it then?
There is even a term for it. Placentophagy is the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young following child birth. Just the sound of it can induce a gag reflex. Yet, there are people out there that swear by it. Those that argue for it claim there are health benefits every pregnant woman should know about.
What are these proclaimed benefits? If they are so amazing, why isn't every OB out there serving a dish of placenta following each delivery?
Feedback is very mixed. Everyone has an opinion. There is a ton of information out there from people who have tried it. Every pregnancy forum has multiple threads discussing it. So let's take a closer look.
Why are people jumping on this bandwagon? What is it about eating placenta that has people considering adding it to their postpartum diet? What I found was intriguing, gross, and downright crazy!
Here are 15 Weird AF Stats About Eating The Placenta:
Did you know the placenta is an organ? It connects the fetus to it's mother to provide all of the necessary oxygen and nutrients needed for development. Then it carries away all of the waste produced. It is vital to pregnancy healthy. The placenta performs just about every function of all of our other organs combined. It acts as kidneys, lungs, a liver, an endocrine system, a gastrointestinal system, and even protects the fetus from it's mother's immune system. The one organ our body produces and then discards when it is done. It is thought the placenta may be able to predict birth outcomes and conditions the mother will develop through pregnancy. Science is even starting to study what the placenta can tell us about the lifelong health of both the mother and the baby.
There is more than just one placenta cookbook out there for sale! So called chefs are turning it into a modern day delicacy. Some believe combining raw placenta with yogurt and fruit makes a great smoothie. Others cook it into traditional recipes like lasagna or tacos. It really can't be much worse than eating liver and onions, right?! Most people have theirs dehydrated, ground up, mixed with herbs, and made into pill form. That would be considered the traditional method. For other more adventurous moms and dads (yes even dads are eating it), they opt for a more unique, risky option. If you're going to eat placenta you might as well go all out, right?! People will already be shocked to hear you've done it, why not go for an even better story of how.
First of all, not much research has been done into what is really found in a human placenta or in what amounts it exists. This probably isn't even consistent across women in general, let alone across each birth via the same mother. Sure we know there are hormones and iron. That's about all we know. To make matters even more questionable, there is no consistent recipe everyone is following when it comes to turning them into pills. Each person's process is unique and the herbs that get added vary in type and amount. Just like no two mothers are the same, no two placenta pills are the same. It makes the entire thing seem very hippy and homemade. Yet, the women that do it aren't phased by it at all.
Research is in it's infancy stage. While this practice is shown to date back to the 60's and 70's with the rise of the home birth and natural birth trends, it wasn't until just recently that it started to move into the mainstream. It is likely due to the increased media coverage, especially as celebrities talk about it. Doctors started getting requests to take their placenta's home and it drew some attention. So far, it seems there are no confirmed (placebo-controlled studies) that have been conducted with humans. Therefore, science has not confirmed any of the supposed benefits as being fact. Yet, this has not had any impact on the growing popularity. Instead they trust their doula, midwife, or a stranger. Who needs science when you have Kim Kardashian telling you it works?!
Prescribed dosage amounts are inconsistent. Send your placenta to ABC Company and you will get one set of directions. Send your next placenta to XYZ Company and you will get a completely different recommendation. If we don't know what's in a placenta, how much of each hormone is present, or what happens to those things as they are frozen, dehydrated, and then ground up, how does someone know how much we should take? Also, there are no guidelines. No recommendations or guardrails to know when the nutrients may be "cooked out" or damaged. Nothing about this process or application has been tested or approved by the FDA. It's all just one big stab in the dark. Yet, again the women that do it don't seem to care. You have to admit, that is weird!
Placenta has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since the 1500's. Some of the conditions that have been treated are infertility, impotence, seizure disorders, bleeding deficiencies, and skin disorders. They also used it for postpartum healing, which may be the basis for much of what we see today. There are even some that believe there are age defying properties! Sometimes it is ground up and given in pill form. Other times it has been recommended to be made into soup. Regardless of the method, they prepare the placenta in a way that is medicinal. It hasn't always been human placenta that was used. Many times animal placenta is used in their culture. Somehow while organ trade has been banned for some time, unwanted placenta is still making it's way into these companies hands.
Earlier we referred to placentophagy as mammals eating their own placenta following birth. In fact, most mammals do it. Immediately following the birth of their young, they eat their own placenta. Scientists aren't really sure why. It could be due to nutritional needs. They also believe it could have to do with predators. By eating their own placenta, it eliminates the waste and keeps predators from tracking them. It protects their young. Humans are one of the only mammals that don't naturally participate. Some believe it may be due to the fact we don't have the same nutritional gaps animals do as we are well fed and don't require it. We also don't have the same worry about predators. Instead, placenta has traditionally been considered medical waste and is discarded.
Placentophagy advocates claim that eating your own placenta can provide an added energy boost. The placenta contains iron. The belief is by consuming that additional iron, the body will gain energy and fight off fatigue. Every new mom out there could use some extra energy. Bringing a new baby home is stressful. The transition takes some time to get used to. Late night feedings and around the clock care of an infant can be downright exhausting. There are a lot of women that support this claim stating the days they take their placenta pills, they have more energy to get through the day. For many that is all they need to hear to try it themselves. Anything that has the potential of helping them feel normal again is worth it.
One of the biggest claims involves lactation. Many mothers have cited having an increase in breast milk production. Advocates attribute that to the additional hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) assisting in the development of the mammary glands to produce milk. There is also prolactin, which is a protein that aids in milk production. Human Placental Lactogen (hPL) is also present and has growth-promoting properties, which also assist the mammary glands in production. Most studies that have been done in this area were not controlled to determine a placebo effect. However, some did report an increase in both the protein and lactose percentages of the breast milk. They attributed this to helping the baby combat post-birth weight loss. Breastfeeding can be stressful for mothers, especially if it is their first time. It is easy to see why moms would be willing to try it for some help in this area.
Postpartum depression is a big concern for new moms, especially those with a history of depression. The only treatment option seems to be pumping your body full of potentially harmful medication. Many moms seek more holistic, natural options first. If there is any potential in avoiding medication, it is worth trying. First of all, there is said to be a thyroid stimulating hormone that can help the body recover from stressful events. Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH) is also present. Low levels of CRH in the body is associated with postpartum depression. Regulating levels can help ward off depression. The extra iron helps, too. If this works, why do we not hear more doctors talking to patients about it? Currently it seems those opting for a home birth with a midwife or a doula are encouraged to try it.
A growing number of midwives are encouraging placentophagy as their postpartum care. Some claim immediately placing a piece on mom's tongue is best. Their main reason is simple. They claim it will reduce postpartum bleeding and speed up the recovery and healing process. What mother wouldn't want that? Those hormones and prostaglandins are said to help regulate uterine contractions and cramping as the uterus returns to it's normal size. Oxytocin and the urokinase inhibiting factor and factor XIII helps to reduce bleeding. Both of these symptoms are prevalent in the first couple of weeks of recovery. The idea they can be helped is appealing. It goes hand in hand with feeling better overall. Getting back to normal as soon as possible is every new mother's primary goal. It makes that adjustment to life with a new baby a little easier.
In one study, rats were shown to suppress pain during postpartum when they were fed placenta. It showed an increase in placental opioid-enhancing factor (POEF or the active substance found in placenta and amniotic fluid), which stimulates the natural production of opioids, including endorphins, to help the body control pain. The tests suggest the possibility for other pain management options after child birth (avoiding the possibility of addiction). Many mothers want more natural options available to them. Others prefer to deal with the pain as long as possible. No human testing has been validated yet. However, many women that have tried it claim they are better able to cope after delivery and can manage with little to no pain medication. Certainly something to consider. Maybe midwives and advocates know what they are talking about.
If you are feeling adventurous, why not make a trip to Japan. There you can buy Placenta 10000. It is a zero calorie jelly drink that contains real pig placenta as it's not so secret ingredient. Sounds yummy, right?! This beverage is marketed to young women seeking beauty benefits. This "health drink" tastes like peaches and is said to have regenerative properties related to beauty. The Japanese are known for adding some really strange things to their products. Prefer to step up your game with placenta cocktails? You should try Placenta 400000. Made by the same manufacturer. It's not peach flavored, but is packed with even more pig placenta goodness. Maybe Japanese women have discovered the fountain of youth and vitality? I think I'd rather just take their word for it.
When you plan to eat your placenta, you need to make preparations ahead of time. This requires talking to your midwife or doctor to make sure they are on board. If you plan to deliver in a hospital, you will likely need to seek permission. It could mean working with them to create an entirely new process for proper storage and release as this practice is not yet mainstream enough. However, as Jordan Thiering found out, it could also mean going to court. When she asked her hospital for her own placenta, she was told she would need a court order for them to release it. So she went to court. Her view was this was part of her body, she should be able to do whatever she wanted with it. Their view was this was medical wastes that was being discarded improperly. In the end, she won.
While the placenta comes from your body, there are risks involved with ingesting it. Part of the placenta's role is to filter waste away from the baby as well as protect it from things that could harm it, like bacteria. Some of it could still be in the placenta following birth. Then you must consider the environment it is being "birthed" into, not the most germ free setting. Your OB will confirm the vagina is not sterile. Finally, who knows what it comes into contact with during storage and transport. There is so much that is outside of your span of control. Since your plan is to ingest it, you want it to be deemed food safe. That means certain temperature requirements. Currently, the FDA does not approve it and no one has established a required procedure. That's scary stuff!
Sources: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, The Guardian, Parenting, Inquirer.net, Placenta Wise, Shift East, Law Street Media, Parents