In all of the preparation for life after baby, or after the big race, we often fail to focus on our own recovery. By taking care of ourselves and our needs beyond the finish line we can ensure that we're ready for our next big event, parenthood. This is one of the many reasons that a number of new moms are exploring placentophagy to give them an edge up post-birth.
Placentophagy is when mammals engage in the act of eating the placenta of their young. There is an increasing trend with a number of women who are signing up to eat their own placenta. While Traditional Chinese Medicine has used placenta medicinally for thousands of years and many other cultures practice placentophagy, research on benefits, and potential risks, is still quite new.
The placenta, like any meat, spoils quickly, so you will need to ensure that it is treated and/or stored carefully and safely. The placenta can be dried, ground into a powder, and converted into pill form for daily consumption whereas others, with supposedly ironclad stomachs, freeze their placenta to ingest in smoothies or cook it up into stews, soups or sauces. Some health practitioners are embracing the trend, have undergone extensive training, and are offering to prepare the placenta for new parents. The costs associated with encapsulating your placenta is around $200-$400.
So are the suggested benefits offered in the practice of placentophagy worth the Fear Factoresque “ick factor”? Many people are saying a resounding, “Yes, pass the placenta, please!” Here are 10 reasons why some women are eating their placenta:
10 It is Packed Full of Nutrients
There are seriously high levels of several nutrients found in the placenta, including iron, protein, Vitamin B6 and B12. Consumption of the placenta is believed to help replenish these nutrients that may have been “stolen” by the baby during pregnancy. If the mother to be is not getting adequate nutrients through her diet and supplements during her pregnancy the baby will poach these nutrients from mom’s bones, glands, and muscles, to the mom’s detriment.
Many women find that they develop iron anemia during pregnancy, as their pre-pregnancy needs for iron are much lower than during pregnancy. There is also a need to restore iron levels from blood loss during birth. The consumption of the iron-rich placenta is suspected to be particularly useful to vegetarians who are recovering from childbirth.
9 Placentophagy increases breast milk production
Advocates of placentophagy have boasted about an improved lactation. A handful of studies have connected the ingestion of placenta with an increase in milk supply. The placenta contains hormones, including human placental lactogen (hPL) and prolactin and growth stimulating properties which are proposed to increase milk production.
A small study from 1954 which only assessed results from women who had consumed their own placenta found that 86 percent of mothers who ingested freeze-dried placental tissue stated that they were satisfied and confident about their levels of milk production. Skeptics of the practice of placentophagy believe that milk production increases happen naturally without placenta as “mother’s little helper”.
8 It’s Cutting Edge and Hot in Hollywood
Remember when everyone packed up their yoga mat and joined the nearest Pilates class because hot celebrities from Sandra Bullock to Kate Hudson to Reese Witherspoon were attributing their hot, lean and long bodies to the practice of Pilates?
Celebrity moms including Alicia Silverstone, January Jones, Kourtney Kardashian, and Mayim Bialik have all publically discussed their practice of placentophagy and its many benefits including mood boosting properties and weight loss enhancement.
7 Placentophagy may Decrease the Risk of Postpartum Depression
Research suggests that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression. Those who have experienced the crippling effects that postpartum depression can have on a mother, and her family, know how serious a medical issue this is.
A 2013 online survey revealed that 40 percent of mothers who practiced placentophagy reported being in a better mood after eating their own placenta. Many mothers have reported that consumption of placenta has prevented the baby blues and postnatal depression.
6 It can Provide Insurance for Menopause or Your Period
Encapsulated placenta is sometimes taken during a woman’s period or even during menopause with the belief that it can help to negate some of the symptoms. It is recommended that a dried, encapsulated placenta is stored in the fridge after six weeks and into the freezer for storage intended beyond a year.
There are other options for those who didn’t dry their own placenta and are entering menopause. Some people have found it helpful to take dried sheep placenta supplements in order to alleviate their symptoms.
5 It Increases Energy and Helps With Recovery
The hormone 'Interferon' found in a placenta is said to stimulate the immune system, an excellent ally to a recovering new mom. Prostaglandins is an anti-inflammatory hormone present in the placenta. Placenta also contains the hormone cortisone which increases energy and relieves stress.
All of these hormones are believed to speed up the return and recovery of a woman’s uterus to its pre-pregnancy state and are found inside the placenta which is ejected from the body post-birth.
4 It Provides Pain Relief
The consumption of the placenta is said to offer a natural pain relief from labour and after the birth of the baby. An analysis of placenta consumption research and studies, led by Dr. Crystal Clark, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, reported that the most compelling evidence of possible benefits of placentophagy is gleaned from experiments conducted on lab rats who ate their placentas immediately after giving birth.
During the experiments, they appeared to be in less pain compared with lab rats who had not. Dr. Clark noted that the way humans prepare and consume their placenta is often very different than the conditions present with the lab rats. She adds, “It has been suggested that the pain-mediating factor was very sensitive to temperature, and would not last more than 24 hours at room temperature.” said Dr. Clark.
3 It Can Reduce Postnatal Bleeding
The placenta contains oxytocin which is known as the “love hormone” as it helps mothers bond with their infants. It is also a uterine stimulant, meaning that it causes contractions in the uterus by altering calcium in the uterine muscle cells. This can help control bleeding (lochia) after childbirth, naturally.
2 It Can Allow For The Placebo Effect
Never underestimate the power of suggestion. By enabling mothers to have the birth and after-birth experience they want, it will be possible for them to feel empowered and confident about their next challenge - life after having their baby. There may not be substantial hard evidence of clear-cut benefits of placentophagy, but the expected outcome could be enough to make a difference.
In Marjorie Howard’s article, Hidden Strength, Tufts Medicine Magazine, she states, “when people anticipate what they’re going to experience as a result of medical treatment, the expectation has a tremendous influence on what happens.” Howard explains further, “It’s also true in a clinical context; if someone believes he is given a pain medication or an antidepressant, he tends to experience the effect of such drugs, even if they haven’t been administered.”
1 It’s a Great Story of Your Journey into Motherhood
Some believe that placentophagy occurs naturally, in the wild, when mammals are attempting to hide any trace of childbirth, and the vulnerabilities of a new infant, from predators. Looking for the perfect toast or warrior mama moment to celebrate your journey into parenthood? This could be the cocktail for you. Perhaps this can become a topic you broach at mommy groups, or business team building exercises when you’re asked what’s unique about you.
Before you start chugging your placenta smoothies, beware. A recent article by Rebecca Harrington in Scientific American reiterates the concern of many medical practitioners surrounding infection, “Although placenta is packed with nutrients and hormones that help the baby develop and survive in the womb, it can also harbor potentially harmful bacteria and waste products.
To date no scientific studies have documented the benefits or risks that may come from eating the placenta.” Discuss any decision with your healthcare provider before digging in, as well as any potential side effects you are feeling postpartum. What will your first meal post baby be? I had pancakes.