The placenta is an amazing organ that forms with a pregnancy. It provides oxygen and nourishment to the growing fetus, as well as the removal of waste products from its blood. After the baby is born, a woman’s body says to the placenta, “your work here is done,” and the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus and is pushed out, like the baby. Placentas are considered medical waste and are usually discarded by the hospital.
Some women are reluctant to part ways with their placenta. Some moms want to take it home, bury it, and plant a tree over it to honor the birth. Other moms want to consume it for what they believe are the many ways it can benefit them in the postpartum period.
Consuming your placenta, what is technically known as placentophagy, is not a new practice. I attended a birth about 35 years ago when I was a labor and delivery nurse, where the mom added a quarter-sized piece of her placenta to a post-birth milkshake. She told me she believed it would help her recover faster.
It’s now becoming an increasingly popular practice for women to have their placenta turned into capsules for consumption in the weeks after birth. This is accomplished by a process that steams and dries the placenta. It is then ground into a powder and put into capsules. The capsules are taken several times a day.
Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and January Jones have touted its benefits and report it made a positive difference for them. Proponents of the practice claim it wards off postpartum depression, enhances milk production and helps a mom recover more quickly after birth. Kim Kardashian West, who did it with her second child, was quoted in Parents magazine as saying, “I can’t go wrong with taking a pill made of my own hormones—made by me, for me.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may beg to differ. In 2017 they reported on the case of an infant who developed recurrent group B streptococcus sepsis after the mother consumed placenta capsules that contained group B strep bacteria. The process of encapsulating placentas isn’t regulated. Doctors believe the infant got sick because the process used on the mother’s placenta did not kill the group B Strep in it. Other concerns expressed are that the preparation methods employed may not kill dangerous infections like hepatitis and HIV.
Until recently, there was little research to back up the claims of the benefits of the practice. One study earlier this year reported on the results of a double-blind, randomized study that looked at the effects of placenta consumption on prolactin levels and newborn weight gain, and there was no statistical difference seen between the groups. A previous study found the majority of women who were surveyed reported positive benefits from consuming their placenta.
The bottom line: more research needs to be conducted to determine if eating your placenta, whether once in a smoothie or over several weeks in capsules, is effective and safe. In the meantime, women considering the practice should do extensive research before making this decision.
Eating Your Placenta — Sources
The Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing: Placentophagy, Lotus Birth, and Other Placenta Practices – What Does the Evidence Tell Us?
Parents: Why Kim Kardashian is Eating Her Placenta
Science Alert: Eating Placenta May Put Your Newborn Baby at Risk, Says CDC
Journal of Midwifery: Ingestion of Steamed and Dehydrated Placenta Capsules Does Not Affect Postpartum Plasma Prolactin Levels or Neonatal Weight Gain: Results from a Randomized, Double‐Bind, Placebo‐Controlled Pilot Study