When did placenta-eating became a trendy thing to do? It probably has something to do with some celebrity deciding to eat hers, but it’s hard to nail down which one really helped it become mainstream. There are Etsy stores dedicated to selling placenta art, people who advertise “placenta encapsulation” services, and husbands who have admitted to also consuming the magical organ. A group of researchers finally decided to investigate whether there is any scientific evidence that backs the claims that consuming placenta is a beneficial thing for postpartum women to do. Spoiler alert: It’s not.
There are no known medical benefits to ingesting something that’s been filtering your baby’s waste products for months on end. And no one can attest to whether it’s actually safe, either.
People who are in favor of eating the placenta claim it raises your energy, boosts milk production, and levels off your hormones — reducing your chances of struggling with postpartum depression. A team at Northwestern University’s medical school analyzed these claims by reviewing 10 published studies on the practice of placentophagy — commonly known as “eating your own placenta.” They found no evidence to support any of the beneficial claims. From Today Parents:
“There are a lot of subjective reports from women who perceived benefits, but there hasn’t been any systematic research investigating the benefits or the risk of placenta ingestion,” said Dr. Crystal Clark. “The studies on mice aren’t translatable into human benefits.”
“The popularity has spiked in the last few years,” she added. “Our sense is that people aren’t making this decision based on science or talking with physicians. Some women are making this based on media reports, blogs and websites.”
Ahh. WWASD, aka, What Would Alicia Silverstone Do? Another of the study’s authors, Cynthia Coyle — a psychologist at Northwestern — says, “There are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent. Women really don’t know what they are ingesting.”
I was on a Babycenter board years ago, before the birth of my first child. One woman was attesting to the magical postpartum cure-all that is eating your own placenta. This was four years ago, before it became the en vogue thing to do — so I was kinda shocked by her insistence that eating something that just slid out of your vagina was a good idea. She wasn’t talking about encapsulation, a smoothie, or placenta tacos — all things that exist since consumption of this organ has become a trend amongst natural mamas. She was talking about actually taking a bite out of it, right then and there. Right after she gave birth. Just ripping a huge chunk of it off with her teeth and chewing on it.
I decided at that moment I wasn’t that hard core, and I would not be joining the “placenta eating” ranks.
I almost changed my mind with the arrival of my second child. My midwife recommended a doula that included placenta encapsulation in the price of her services. I’m always one for a bargain, so if she was going to hand me some placenta to ingest in pill-form, for free, why not? Then I realized I would have to plan ahead for this, sign medical release forms, and leave the hospital with it in a cooler. Again, I’m not that hard core.
Point is, I was willing to do it before I realized the steps it took to make it happen. Which is odd, considering that I didn’t so much as take a Tylenol for the entirety of my pregnancy. But I was willing to ingest this thing while breastfeeding, simply because someone (with no medical background) would prepare it for me in pill form. And as someone who spent the majority of her life in the food service industry, I can tell you there are very strict rules for handling raw meat that simply aren’t regulated in these placenta encapsulation businesses.
Many proponents of the practice claim that animals in the wild do it, so it must be a natural, healthy choice. Thing is, no one is really certain why animals do it: one of the ideas is that they do it to protect their young from predators. Also, the “animals do it” argument doesn’t carry much weight, considering they also lick their own assholes, eat shit, and do a variety of other things none of us are going to try simply because it must be “natural.”
As usual, do you. But this study may help you decide whether going down the placenta-eating road is really worth it.