Eating Your Placenta After Giving Birth

The decision should be made with caution

Woman holding newborn baby
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Eating one's placenta is known as placentophagy. It is practiced by most mammals in the animal world, including many primates. This excludes the majority of humans, although it is done by some. Women have been known to cook placenta, dehydrate it and turn it into edible powders, blend it into smoothies—even eat it raw.

There are some who say that eating human placenta can help with health concerns, both pregnancy related and otherwise.

 Placenta is high in progesterone and has a small amount of oxytocin (the "feel good" hormone). Some midwives and doctors use placenta medicinally after a woman gives birth to help with issues from postpartum depression to postpartum hemorrhage; placenta supposedly helps stem bleeding after birth and causes the uterus to clean itself out. Some also believe that using the placenta in any form after birth can help alleviate pain. Certain forms of Chinese medicine also involve the use of parts of human placenta. 

Is it Safe?

Eating your own placenta (in any form) is discouraged, as there is limited, if any evidence to conclusively support its safety; this is not an area that has been significantly researched by the medical community. In addition, your placenta may filter and trap harmful substances away from your baby during pregnancy, meaning you may be exposed to large concentrations of them if you eat your placenta.

 Placenta is also subject to spoilage, which can pose its own set of risks. 

Importantly, remember that—if you are breastfeeding—what goes into your body has the potential to affect more than just your health. Little ones are far more susceptible, for example, to bacteria that eating placenta may introduce.

Though the decision to consumer your own placenta should be made with caution, never eat someone else's placenta, as illnesses that can be transmitted by blood—hepatitis, HIV, etc.—may potentially be present.

Placenta Encapsulation

While some women eat placenta cooked or raw, placenta encapsulation—dehydrating placenta to turn it into pills—is more common these days. ​

According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), support for this practice comes mainly from anecdotes, not from research, which is very thin. Furthermore, the APA says that some women who have consumed their placenta in pill form have reported symptoms such as dizziness and jitteriness.

Placenta encapsulation can be done by the mother or family, but people more often turn to services that do this for them. While there are multiple training programs on how to encapsulate a placenta available, this is not a regulated practice or industry. It's important to consider the risks associated with having your placenta "processed" by a service that does the same for other women, including cross-contamination.

A case of an infant becoming infected with group B streptococcus, likely due to its mother's consumption of encapsulated placenta, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), got national attention in 2017.

Although it is difficult to draw conclusions from one particular incident, this case heightened awareness of potential risks of this practice and raised a larger discussion about the consumption of placenta in any form. The process of placental encapsulation does not eradicate all potential pathogenic organisms from the placenta.

Other Things to Do With a Placenta

Some families choose to commemorate a birth and "honor" the placenta itself by burying it under a tree or by creating art projects, like a placenta print. These are safer options for you and your baby, although state and local laws may restrict what you can do when it comes to the outdoors.

Regardless, if you take your placenta home and later need to dispose of it, do not simply throw it away. Consult a hospital or a medical waste company to ensure a safe disposal.

Sources:

Coyle CW, Hulse KE, Wisner KL, Driscoll KE, Clark CT. Placentophagy: therapeutic miracle or myth? Arch Womens Ment Health. 2015 Oct;18(5):673-80. doi: 10.1007/s00737-015-0538-8. Epub 2015 Jun 4.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6625a4.htm. Published June 29, 2017. 

Placenta Encapsulation: Safety and Possible Benefits. American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/first-year-of-life/placental-encapsulation/. Published May 18, 2016.

Schwartz S. Maternal placentophagy as an alternative medicinal practice in the postpartum period. Midwifery Today Int Midwife. 2014 Summer;(110):28-9.

Selander J, Cantor A, Young SM, Benyshek DC. Human maternal placentophagy: a survey of self-reported motivations and experiences associated with placenta consumption. Ecol Food Nutr. 2013;52(2):93-115. doi: 10.1080/03670244.2012.719356.

Young SM, Gryder LK, Zava D, Kimball DW, Benyshek DC. Presence and concentration of 17 hormones in human placenta processed for encapsulation and consumption. Placenta. 2016 Jul;43:86-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2016.05.005. Epub 2016 May 10.

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