One of my four pregnant daughters recently asked me to do a blog post on eating the placenta after one has given birth. Yes, it does have a name: placentophagy. Said daughter is considering doing this.
Before we discuss why one would do this, we will discuss how. The placenta is usually encapsulated after being dried and ground. But some people eat it raw, or steam it and incorporate it into food sliced or ground, make it into jerky-like pieces, or freeze small pieces to add to smoothies. Some people choose to process the placenta themselves; others hire people to pick up the placenta right after the time of delivery and take care of the unsavory business. The cost for the latter ranges from about $150-$350.
Most mammals eat their placenta. Most humans do not. It is postulated that animals may do this more due to a housekeeping issue like keeping predators away rather than an instinctive healthful practice. According to Beacock (2012) and Schwartz (2014), however, some humans think that placentophagy can be healthful by providing nutrients, especially iron and vitamin B6, hormones, and opioids; all adding to a sense of well-being. It is also thought to increase milk production. Some, on the other hand, worry that the placenta may contain toxins and other undesirable substances that the placenta filters.
Supposed benefits: (1) replenishes iron losses more effectively than iron supplementation or eating iron-rich foods. Iron-deficient anemia is associated with post-partum depression, (2) placentophaphy is thought to replace hormones that the mother’s may have suddenly become deficient in. These include cortocotropin-releasing-hormone which affects cortisol levels; progesterone; and lactogen, which is thought to help stimulate milk production, (3) pain relief or suppression due to placental opoid-enhancing factor (POEF), (Schwartz, 2014). The placenta also contains calcium, magnesium, and other healthy trace minerals and amino acids.
Unfortunately, the evidence and research is limited to support the various claims. However, it has been used by traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1400 years, and, anecdotally, many new mothers attest to placentophaphy being very helpful.
One study done by the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2010 using 189 women showed that most women said they would eat their placenta again. Forty-three percent reported negative side effects: the gross factor-unappetizing, burping, and headaches, which do not really sound very daunting.
Although I am not actually opposed to placentophagy, I am not sorry that I did not partake in it after giving birth to my six children, even though I certainly could have used the reported benefits. Can I give my opinion here? It just doesn’t seem natural. I would rather obtain these benefits in other ways, or perhaps even suffer a little. But it is an interesting practice to consider.
Just a side note, interestingly, as I finish writing this, the first of four daughters due to have babies within five months of each other is now in labor. All four of them are having boys. Now that is quirky.
Beacock, M. (2012). Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits. British Journal of Midwifery, 20(7), 464-9.
Schwartz, S. (2014). Maternal placentophagy as an alternative medicinal practice in the postpartum period. Midwifery Today, (110), 28-29.