Eating your placenta – are there any benefits?

This is a guest post from Olivia, a journalist and solo mom to two great kids, who regularly blogs at WriteAboutBirth.com where she writes about unassisted homebirth and many other topics relating to pregnancy, birthing, and babies. I’ve been mulling over whether or not to eat some of my placenta after birth, so I’m especially pleased to feature this post from her on placenta eating. Enjoy!

Eating your placenta – are there any benefits?

Eating a placenta is not a thought that appeals to many people. In western societies, the placenta is generally not given much thought at all. Yet, without this organ, life itself would be impossible – it nurtures babies in utero for the duration of pregnancy. What are the benefits of eating your placenta? Why does the placenta deserve to be given more thought?

The placenta has been used for medicinal purposes in Asian traditional medicine for many thousands of years. The reason is clear – as an endocrine organ, the placenta is obviously full of hormones. In China, dried human placentae, known as Zi He Che, are used to treat a multitude of conditions including infertility and male impotence. Postpartum recovery is not on the list, however.

How about the science behind placentophagy?
Photo by Adam Roe

Placenta-eating advocates are quick to say that those hormones can do lot for you in that vulnerable postpartum period, and perhaps return some of that energy that was lost during pregnancy to new mothers. Yet, the practice of placentophagy is relatively new. Many mammals do it, but humans don’t practice this in large numbers. Even in indigenous cultures, there is no evidence of placenta consumption. This means that placentophagy is mainly limited to “crunchy” circles. What exactly is a placenta supposed to be able to do for you? What are the hormones that are in there?

Oxytocin, the famous “feel good” hormone, assists the bonding process and makes you feel great. Some say that oxytocin helps combat postpartum depression, making placenta-eating a worthwhile endeavor all in itself, especially if you believe you are at risk. Perhaps most interestingly, oxytocin could serve to prevent or stop postpartum hemorrhage. Prolactin helps breastfeeding and increases a mother’s milk supply, and interferon protects you from infections. Cortisone and thyroid stimulating hormone both reduce stress levels and boost energy. In fact, eating your placenta is said to increase your iron levels and help you heal from anemia if you had it, too!

Before you jump on the placenta-eating bandwagon, though, you might like to know what evidence there is to support all the claims in the previous paragraph. It’s true that the placenta produces hormones. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, Human Placental Lactogen, estrogen and progesterone, are contained in the human placenta. But… there is precisely zero evidence that there is any oxytocin in placentae. And that is one thing that should be easily testable in a lab-setting, right? So why is it so very difficult to find accurate and reliable information on this subject? If I ever have another baby, I think I’ll at least save a considerable chunk of my placenta so I can have it tested for oxytocin!

I have never heard of any herbalists or practitioners of Traditional Asian Medicine recommending placenta-eating to stop postpartum bleeding. Those who are relying on natural methods of halting extreme bleeding should probably stock up on other, more proven remedies like Shepherd’s Purse and witch hazel bark tincture. There is a time and a place to experiment with non-proven treatments, but a hemorrhage is not it. It is possible die from excessive blood loss in a very short period of time. Even if placenta does have the power of stopping hemorrhage, you will obviously only be able to use it once it is born.

My experience

I first started researching placentophagy during my second pregnancy. I was preparing for an unassisted homebirth, and was impressed by reports of women who had gone before me that placenta was able to prevent and stop postpartum hemorrhage – a complication I’d rather say no to. It was an interesting experiment. As a life-long vegetarian, eating meat did not sound very appealing to me at all, but I wanted to try this. I opted to cut my placenta into small pieces and swallowed them with juice. I never tasted any meat, and the process of swallowing the chunks was not difficult.

Encapsulating a placenta to take it in tablet form is another popular way to consume a placenta, and some people make smoothies with the placenta blended in. There is no need to ever taste meat if you would like to try eating your placenta, but encapsulating is not a suitable option for the lazy and dehydrator-less among us. Besides, a raw placenta might contain more of the “good stuff” you are after than a dehydrated or cooked one.

After my son was born, I felt energetic, and in fact euphoric, for months. During pregnancy, I had felt depressed, and I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that, although it’s better now, rears its head sometimes. A several- month long euphoria was quite an accomplishment, to be sure! I recovered from childbirth extremely quickly. There was no postpartum bleeding to speak of, no hemorrhage anywhere in sight. Lochia lasted much shorter than it did with my first child (three weeks compared to six weeks).

Can all of that be attributed to the fact that I consumed my placenta? Obviously, I don’t know. I had a short and smooth labor and birth, and was better prepared for motherhood than with my first child, because I had done it before. But I do believe that eating my placenta contributed to my high levels of energy and my quick recovery. If nothing else, I am convinced it gave me an iron boost.

Note from Issa: What about you? Have you eaten your placenta or known someone who has? What was your experience? Anything else you’d like to know about placenta eating? Let us hear about it in the comments!

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