I am guessing you clicked on this post for one of two reasons.
- You are so grossed out by the thought of eating your own or anyone else’s placenta that you wanted to read more out of morbid curiosity.
- You want to skip to the end and tell me that I can’t tell you what to do with your own medical waste.
If you are in group number one, you are right to be grossed out. Don’t get me wrong. The placenta is amazing – when it’s in your body and working to connect your baby with your uterus, giving them the oxygen, nutrients and hormones necessary to grow, develop, and thrive. It’s also the organ that transports their waste. And filters out bad stuff, so it doesn’t reach your fetus. A-freaking-mazing. But, it’s not full of magical nutrients that you can’t find in a balanced diet or able to give you amazing superpowers like boosting breast milk supply, increasing bonding with your newborn or avoiding postpartum depression. No matter if it’s fresh, fried, blended, freeze-dried or dehydrated.
A 2015 Northwestern Medicine review of 10 studies on eating the placenta (a.k.a. placentophagy) did not turn up any data to support common claims that eating raw, cooked or encapsulated placenta impacts postpartum depression, post-delivery pain, energy levels, lactation, skin elasticity, bonding, or iron levels (which I have to admit surprised me since my placentas greatly resembled ginormous livers).
Despite the fact that there’s no research evidence supporting any benefits of placentophagy, it is becoming a popular trend and many “birth professionals” like midwives, doulas, and lactation consultants recommend it and even sell “placenta encapsulation” as a service. You may be surprised to learn that contrary to what they or the internet might tell you, it is not a common practice among prehistoric, historic or contemporary human cultures. So, no appeals to antiquity please.
Placentophagy is pretty common in the animal world. Mostly to provide food for mama animals, as they recover from labor and delivery and have no one to bring them onion rings and cheese cake. Also, it helps hide mama and her new babies from predators. Neither of these functions is even remotely relevant in a modern human context. Unless, that is, you gave birth in a forest full of hungry wolves.
In addition to having no benefit, it also could be dangerous or harmful. Remember, this is a filter organ, which removes waste and prevents harmful substances from reaching baby. It also degrades during pregnancy. You have no way of knowing if it’s contaminated or calcified. And, let’s not forget, it’s meat, capable of being a host for bacteria and viruses.
But, what about encapsulated placenta that has been dried or freeze dried? Not only is it potentially prepared in someone’s kitchen, but the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements in the U.S., so you have no idea how it was prepared, the qualifications of or safety precautions employed by the encapsulator or if it’s safe for human consumption. Also, the encapsulation process likely destroys any nutritional content.
So, it’s gross, useless, and potentially harmful, but, then again, a lot of things people eat are those things. Why am I asking you not to try it?
What’s the harm?
Answer – it doesn’t work, and while you are waiting to see if it works, you might be foregoing important or even lifesaving medical treatment for yourself or your baby. I had both postpartum depression and breast milk supply issues. If I had relied on pseudoscience bullshit to treat them, I or my beautiful babies, may have died. Died. I don’t want you to die. I really don’t. I know how challenging the postpartum days can be. I know that fear and desperation. I know how horrible I felt on the darkest days following the birth of my son. I probably would have tried it, then, if I had known about it before delivery. I also know that there’s a light after the dark. Get real help right away. Don’t miss out on beautiful days with your newborn.
But, many people say it worked for them…
This is called the placebo effect. They wanted it to work. It’s likely that their milk came in, they started feeling good again, their hormones regulated, etc. Correlation does not equal causation. The problem with placebos? If you try it, experience a placebo effect and then spread the word, other people might try it to and might not get real medical care when they have postpartum depression or breast milk supply issues and risk serious harm to themselves or their babies “trying it out” or get sick from an unsafe product.
Additionally, when you spend money on this dumbfuckery, you line the pockets of charlatans and snake oil sales people, and if you and/or they post about it on social media and/or tell everyone you know, you spread woo and magical thinking like a disease. Soon, it becomes “real” in our culture, even though it does not work.
Don’t take my word for it. I asked International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and neonatal nurse specialist Jody Segrave-Daly if she recommends placentophagy to her patients.
I never recommend consuming the placenta in any form, because of the overwhelming studies that show there are no benefits for a mother. In addition, I am equally concerned how the placenta is processed in an unregulated manner, usually in a kitchen of an encapsulator. The cost of the pills is equally concerning, and I find any doula, midwife or lactation consultant who provides this service to be unethical. In my clinical practice, I see women who have low supply regularly. After an extensive assessment, many of these mothers are taking encapsulated placenta. The harm of trying it is we do not know the risks of consuming an organ that filters toxins to protect your baby in utero.
If you are in group number two and you made it this far, you are absolutely right. I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you why I think the practice could be harmful and why we’ve got to stop promoting pseudoscience and simultaneously reinforcing a natural birth industry that keeps trying to sell you shit that doesn’t work.
You can eat your placenta if you want, but please, for the love of spaghetti, don’t tell anyone. Keep it a secret. Don’t spread the woo. Or instead, plant it by a tree, make a painting with it, put googly eyes on it and name it George, or dispose of it properly. Any of those is a better choice.