Placentophagia – eating the placenta after giving birth – is ubiquitous among all mammals except for humans, but there’s a growing movement of women who want to eat the placenta for its purported health benefits.
As I’ve been reading up on this practice, I’ve been going back and forth between the ick factor and thinking it kind of makes sense. Proponents of placentophagia say that it helps with mother-child bonding, can stave of postpartum depression, and can help the body heal after childbirth.
The placenta also contains natural opioids, which scientists think can help with some of the pain mothers experience post childbirth, and it also contains nutrients and hormones that could help with post-birth symptoms like the ones listed above.
For human mothers, eating the placenta began to gain popularity in the 1970s.
Why Don’t Humans Eat the Placenta?
While there is a growing movement of women who are saving their placentas to eat after childbirth, it’s not an instinctual human practice like it is in other mammals. Why is that? The short answer to this question is that we don’t know, but I was able to find some ideas from scientists on why humans generally don’t eat the placenta.
One reason scientists believe that other mammals eat the placenta is to replenish lost nutrients like protein and iron. Because of our modern diets, these nutrients are not as hard to come by, so one reason that we may not eat the placenta is that we have other food available that contains similar nutrients.
Some scientists think that eating the placenta has nothing to do with nutrients but is about cleaning the area and not attracting predators. In a hospital setting or home birth, there is no urgency to protect your young from wild predators, which may be part of why human mothers don’t feel compelled to eat the placenta.
The Modern Placentophagia Movement
Since the 1970s, eating the placenta has become part of the alternative medicine culture, and many women request to keep their placenta after giving birth. Rather than tearing into the raw placenta right after delivery, mothers usually hire a placenta specialist who cooks or dehydrates the afterbirth so that the mother can eat it for weeks – sometimes even months – following delivery.
From what I’ve read, placenta pills are the most common way to ingest the placenta. The specialist dehydrates the afterbirth, grinds it into a powder, and encapsulates it into pills. Women sometimes take home the dehydrated placenta to eat like jerky or freeze it and blend pieces into morning smoothies.
There is no conclusive research showing that it’s beneficial for humans to eat the placenta, but I’ve come across a bit of anecdotal evidence. Women say they get a rush from eating placenta, similar to the one you get when you drink green juice. Some say it’s helped them fight off postpartum depression and replenish their energy after giving birth.
Probably the best argument I’ve seen for placentophagia is in the book Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal, who talks about how eating her placenta helped her feel more energized after giving birth:
“Some may claim that what I experienced was the placebo affect, to which I counter ‘Who cares!? It worked and it was awesome!’”
I’d love to hear from the moms out there who have tried this! Did you feel like it made a difference for you, post-partum? If you’re pregnant now or planning to have a baby, is your placenta going to be on the menu?
- Ecology of Food and Nutrition
- New York Magazine
- UT San Diego News
- Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide