You may have pegged me for a "crunchy" type if you've read my posts on the benefits of physiological birth, the birth of my third son at a free-standing birth center, making bone broth, skipping the newborn Hepatitis B vaccine...among others.
But I have a confession. I didn't ingest my placenta. Deliberately.
There are dozens of sites now that speak about the purported health benefits, specifically for avoiding postpartum 'baby blues" and iron deficiency in the weeks after the birth of a baby. One of the most popular sites, Placentabenefits.info has some articles that you are welcome to review with some of the available scientific evidence. They even have this statement in their article about "How to Have A Happy Postpartum"
" Use the placenta to help with your postpartum recovery. Your own placenta, made into capsules, is incredibly nutritious and beneficial to you. Women who take their placenta capsules tend to have better postpartum experiences, avoid the baby blues, have an increase in energy, and an increase in milk production. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used placenta for centuries to treat issues such as fatigue and insufficient lactation, and scientific studies have bolstered the use of placenta for these conditions. Using the placenta for your postpartum recovery is a very easy and natural way to help you feel better after the birth."
Do women who ingest the placenta tend to have "better" postpartum experiences, avoid the baby blues, have increased energy, and increase in milk production?
Actually in the few observational studies that have been done in humans, YES. However, most of the studies did not use a control group, or the control group received dehydrated beef capsules instead of placenta. THe majority of women surveyed felt like ingesting placenta helped them. However, without a true control group, there is really no telling whether it was the placenta specifically, or the iron and other nutrients in the placenta (which can be present in other foods) that helped, or if the mothers would have been just fine WITHOUT the placenta.
Most of the available research on placenta has used rats. Even with all of the rat studies, what becomes apparent, and what scientists readily admit, is that they still have no idea WHY rats, and indeed nearly all mammals (except humans) ingest the placenta following birth. There are several theories, but none of them fully explain the compulsion of mammals to ingest the placenta. Even if they did, would this necessarily apply to humans? Animals do all kinds of things that we homo-sapiens find to be unthinkable. (consider a cat cleaning itself with it's tongue, for instance. We have other methods for hygiene).
So, I certainly don't think that the positive experiences of women regarding the ingestion of the placenta should be totally discounted, but for me it wasn't strong enough evidence to eat my own placenta. Especially when I considered an important fact.
Traditional Human Cultures Did NOT Consume the Placenta After Birth
Several websites refer to the use of placenta in Traditional Chinese Medicine seemingly to support the modern ingestion of placenta. This is a bit misleading, however, as placenta was used not by mothers postpartum, but in the treatment of "wasting diseases". It's also stated on several websites that other cultures (Vietnamese, Italian, and Hungarians) have a tradition of eating the placenta, but I have yet to find any actual source for that statement. However, several researchers note the following: "The conspicuous absence of cultural traditions associated with maternal placentophagy in the cross-cultural ethnographic record raises interesting questions relative to its ubiquitous presence among nearly all other mammals, and the reasons for its absence (or extreme rarity) among prehistoric/historic and contemporary human cultures." (bold mine)
In fact, another researcher, in searching through the information available on 296 cultural groups, was able to discern after-birth practices of about 70% of them and noted the same absence of placenta consumption. He says:
Now...I find that pretty interesting. Do you? The first mention of MATERNAL placenta consumption didn't occur until the 1970's! I feel that it's a little bit misleading for women to be told that consumption of the placenta in the postpartum period has a long history, when in fact it does not. That doesn't mean that there are no benefits to doing it, but to make an informed decision, women should be given all of the pertinent information.
My main reason for choosing not to consume or encapsulate my placenta was because of the lack of anthropological evidence that such a practice is beneficial. The nagging feeling that there may be a very good reason for this that scientists just haven't figured out yet just couldn't be ignored.
That said, I do feel that the choice as to whether or not to consume the placenta is the mother's. I chose not to, but many women feel that the possible benefits are too much to pass up, and that is absolutely their decision to make. There are birth professionals in my area who practice placenta encapsulation, and I would be happy to refer you to any one of them.
What do you think? Did you consume your placenta? Would you do it again?
I look at birth from the perspective that our bodies are wonderfully made, and if we really believe that and work with the birth process and nourish our bodies properly, they will function optimally, most of the time!