The first time I heard about someone eating her placenta (Mayim Bialik, who played the title character on Blossom and now stars on The Big Bang Theory), I was totally grossed out. “What? Why?!” I screeched at my friend after she shared this bit of celebrity gossip. She shrugged, and I forgot all about it.
But over the next couple of years, I began to hear more and more about this burgeoning health trend. Celebrities and noncelebs alike were touting the benefits of placentophagy, or ingesting one’s placenta after birth. Among the supposed benefits were increased energy and milk production, a lower likelihood of postpartum depression, and faster healing. Very few side effects, apart from squeamishness at the whole idea, were mentioned.
When I became pregnant with my second son, I decided to seriously look into it. Here’s what I found:
What is placentophagy?
It’s a fancy way of saying ‘ingesting the placenta.’ While it may sound new agey, almost all mammals participate in the practice, and dried placenta has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Why do other animals eat their placenta? Exact reasons are unknown, but some placentophagy advocates believe that since it’s so widespread, there must be some kind of evolutionary advantage to doing so. Theories as to what that advantage might be range from the obvious (Mom was hungry!) to the instinctual (it hides the smell of an unprotected newborn).
What does science say?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much. There have been very few studies on placentophagy to date, and even fewer studies involving humans. The strongest claim seems to be that it may increase milk production. The lack of scientific evidence is somewhat understandable – it’s difficult to create a study that could isolate this as the sole factor for changes in a woman’s mood or energy level after giving birth. However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence claiming that this practice has several positive benefits.
Now, I’m a scientifically minded woman, but I was still interested despite the lack of research on the topic. Maybe these women were experiencing a placebo effect, but who cares? If it works, it works, whether it’s because of the placebo effect or not. I decided that there wasn’t much to lose. I had experienced some postpartum depression after the birth of my oldest, and if this could help, why not try it?
So how does one actually eat the placenta?
There are several ways you can do it, including:
- Cooked in a meal or on its own
- Raw (preferably in a smoothie)
- Encapsulated (generally after cooking or dehydrating it)
- Suspended in a tincture
Personally, I’m too squeamish to consider eating the placenta straight or in a smoothie, whether it’s raw or cooked. I decided on encapsulation, and was surprised to find that there were multiple companies offering this service in my area. One offered encapsulation for a mere $99, and the other cost $250. I wasn’t looking for the bargain basement price, so I went with the more expensive (and reputable) company.
How does it work?
It was actually very easy. We brought a cooler to the hospital when I went into labor. I had called the hospital beforehand to make sure that they would allow me to bring my placenta home, and they were fine with it. I reminded the nurse of my plans and my husband knew what to do. After Luke was born, the nurses packed the placenta in the cooler and handed it off to my husband. He texted the encapsulation company, and they came by to pick it up. The pills were dropped off at the hospital the next day (along with a bonus ‘placenta print,’ which I chose not to keep).
Would I do it again?
Yes, absolutely. I felt more energetic and less moody, and I pretty much skipped over the ‘baby blues’ entirely. Of course, I had my oldest son via C-section while Luke was a VBAC, so that could account for the faster healing and increase in energy. But I don’t care why it worked. Whether it was the placebo effect or an actual product of the healing properties of the placenta doesn’t matter, at least not to me. It helped me feel better during this crazy time, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.