Placenta: A ‘superfood’ or a dietary fad?
Be it encapsulated, blended in a smoothie, or even roasted with vegetables, there are many ways that a woman can choose to consume her placenta after childbirth. With this vital pregnancy organ gaining traction as a “superfood,” more new mothers are considering the practice. But is eating placenta really beneficial?
The practice of eating placenta, or “placentophagy,” is common in the animal kingdom.
It is believed that most non-human mammals with a placenta consume their “afterbirth” — as the placenta is otherwise known — as a way of eradicating the scent of their newborn and protecting them against predators.
Other literature suggests that animals eat their placenta as a way of regaining nutrients that might have been lost during delivery, and to encourage mother-child bonding.
It is the latter hypotheses that have made placentophagy attractive to human mothers, and with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and January Jones advocating the practice, it is more popular than ever.
While many new mothers hail the health benefits of eating the afterbirth, critics say that the practice could be more harmful than helpful. We take a look at the evidence for both sides of the argument.
The purpose of the placenta
The placenta is an organ that forms on the wall of the uterus during pregnancy, and it is connected to the fetus by the umbilical cord.
The placenta acts as a transport system: the organ delivers oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood to the developing child, as well as removes waste products from the baby’s blood.
Furthermore, the placenta protects the baby against the mother’s immune system and also produces hormones that help to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
All of these processes are crucial for the baby’s growth and development.
When a mother gives birth, the placenta is also delivered. If delivering vaginally, the placenta will normally follow the baby within 5 minutes, though it can take up to half an hour. If it is through a cesarean delivery, the placenta will be removed during surgery.
So what happens to the placenta after birth? While most hospitals and birthing centers will automatically treat placentas as medical waste, mothers can request to keep them.
In some cultures, families bury the placenta to honor this momentous organ and celebrate their baby’s life. But in recent years, more and more new mothers are opting for a somewhat controversial practice: placentophagy.
Placenta-in-a-pill or placenta patties?
Placentophagy is simply the practice of consuming the placenta after birth. It is believed that the practice derives from ancient Chinese medicine, wherein the organ would be used to help treat medical conditions such as infertility and liver problems.
The most popular method of placenta consumption — highly favored by the aforementioned celebrities — is encapsulation, in which the placenta is dehydrated, ground, and put into a capsule. There are many midwives or doulas who can provide this service.
The placenta can make up to 200 pills. Shortly after birth, mothers may take their placenta pills as a daily supplement.
For mothers with a stronger stomach, eating the placenta raw — in a smoothie, for example — or cooking and preparing it for a meal may be preferable. The Doula Services Network provide some interesting placenta recipes, including placenta lasagna and placenta spaghetti.
And for those of you who want to know what placenta tastes like, here’s a description from one man who prepared and ate his wife’s placenta:
The cooked placenta […] was actually pretty good. As I seasoned it on the chopping board, the bright, almost glowing red chunk of placenta was more attractive than many cuts of offal I’ve dealt with, and looked quite appetizing.”
“The meat was rich,” he added, “with a beef-like quality. It was tender, kind of like roast brisket and not dissimilar to Texas BBQ.”
Preparation practices aside, there is really only one question that expectant mothers want answered: is eating placenta beneficial?
The potential benefits of placentophagy
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not a simple “yes” or “no.”
There is little scientific evidence proving that placentophagy offers health benefits. But research has shown that the afterbirth contains a variety of nutrients — such as fiber, protein, and potassium — as well as hormones including estradiol and testosterone.
What is more, there is an abundance of mothers across the globe who claim that placentophagy helped to improve their postnatal health, and many advocates believe that these personal experiences defeat science.
So, what are the said health…