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?
1/22/2015 09:28:44 am
I think this article is pretty spot on, except for one thing. There is scientific evidence that suggests checking a piece of the placenta or umbilical cord is helpful is situations of excessive bleeding and postpartum hemorrhage. The prostaglandin content is responsible for this benefit.
1/22/2015 01:51:34 pm
True! But dates can also help with hemorrhage, and they are much more palatable!
2/26/2015 06:46:09 pm
No, no, no - dates do NOT help with a PPH, and nor does placenta by the way. A haemhorrage is serious and needs to be dealt with promptly. When blood circulation is compromised the remaining blood is taken away from the digestive system and periphery and sent to the vital organs such as the brain and the heart. Women often vomit with a severe haemorrhage so anything by mouth is pretty much doomed to fail. There has been some work done with oral Misoprostol but it is less effective than injected oxytocics and uterine massage, which are the standard way of treating PPH.
I really appreciate this look into placentophagy. I love the way you drew a conclusion without creating bias. I've never felt the desire to ingest my own placenta - I wouldn't be opposed at all in a situation where it would be really helpful, such as in hemorrhage, and would actually prefer to eat the placenta in that scenario - but have always buried it at the foot of a new tree in honor of the process, the birth, and my baby. As you also mentioned, as a birth professional in Philly, I have some great resources I can refer to for women looking for encapsulation services but seeing some of the actual anthropological info surrounding it was really cool. Thanks for putting some great info all in one place. I found your post empowering and informative!
1/22/2015 01:50:23 pm
Thanks for your comment! This is one of those things that I had to think long and hard about because I do lean towards the natural side of things, but it's also important to me to be purposeful about it also.
1/22/2015 01:45:04 pm
Interesting and I kinda agree! I am pretty 'crunchy' myself and was asked by a few people if I was going to eat my placenta! I had read about it but it just wasn't for me. I thought I'd be nutritonally fine if I didn't eat it. Then Mama Natural posted a video/blog on her site about her experience and it wasn't all that great. My thinking on why dogs eat the afterbirth; Our dog just had 5 pups and ate all the afterbirth...what do we feed our dogs? Dog food (a pretty decent kind without crap in it) along with our healthy scraps as well, but maybe they get and need extra nutrients from it? But mama dog also eats the pee and poo from the pups too! Imagine if humans did that...ewwww! ;-)
1/22/2015 01:54:51 pm
Interesting; I hadn't heard about the Mama Natural video.
3/29/2015 02:57:32 am
4/9/2019 05:24:27 pm
Thank you for initiating this discussion on your blog and providing some much needed information. I would like to offer yet another perspective on this practice...and that is how it affects a new mother energetically. As a energy practitioner, I want to share with everyone involved, that you are consciously consuming all the energy surrounding the birth. It’s not just wether or not you experienced pain during labor, which is your pain, but also that you are consuming the trauma of the newborn’s experience as well. A newborn is being pushed from the womb and thrust into the world from it’s safe and protective environment. There is so much that affects this process that is hard to imagine why, as women, we would take on this energy again...willingly. It matters not how easy or difficult the labor experience is or isn’t, it simply matters that the energy around is traumatic to the physical bodies involved. Witnessing this as an energy healer, it is not desirable. Everyone has plenty of other stored traumas, emotions etc. to work on this lifetime.
Beyond Birth Support
4/9/2019 06:07:19 pm
Thanks for your comments Barbara! Very thought provoking.
12/21/2020 07:31:29 am
Thankss for sharing
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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!