Many in the natural childbirth world advocate for eating their babies’ placentas. Individuals that consume the placenta argue that consuming the organ helps mothers with postpartum depression, hormone function, and increase vitamins and minerals like iron. Is consuming the placenta good for postpartum mothers, or is it flirting with cannibalism?
Advocates of placenta consumption point to several reasons for eating the organ. The placenta contains nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that feed the baby inside the womb. According to What to Expect, the placenta contains vitamins B6, B12, and iron.
Not only does the placenta contain vitamins and minerals, but the tissue is also loaded with the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Proponents of placenta consumption argue that eating the tissue increases the progesterone and estrogen levels in postpartum mothers. They theorize the hormones contained in the placenta reduce postpartum depression.
Other benefits touted by fans of the placenta suggest the tissue treats anemia, balances the hormones, and increases the milk supply of mothers.
At face value, all of these benefits sound great for the mother. She can fight off anemia from blood loss during delivery, increase her boob juice, and help herself feel better emotionally. Unfortunately, there isn’t much science to support the claims.
Placenta consumption has become so popular, especially in the United States, that doctors in Obstetrics and Gynecology released a statement on the practice. The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG) published an 11-page article on their findings of eating the placenta.
In the article, the researchers reviewed a handful of studies on placenta consumption. Their conclusion is clear. There is no scientific benefit to eating the placenta. Instead, they point out that anecdotes shared about the positive effects are more than likely a result of placebo effect.
“We found that there is no scientific evidence of any clinical benefit of placentophagy among humans, and no placental nutrients and hormones are retained in sufficient amounts after placenta encapsulation to be potentially helpful to the mother postpartum.”
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the study completed, outlined a case in Oregon. A mother’s child developed a serious infection because she admitted to consuming the placenta.
“In contrast to the belief of clinical benefits associated with human placentophagy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a warning due to a case in which a newborn infant developed recurrent neonatal group B Streptococcus sepsis after the mother ingested contaminated placenta capsules containing Streptococcus agalactiae.”
Following the case with the mother, the CDC released a statement on consuming the placenta. The CDC stated there are no standards for placenta encapsulation outside of cooking the tissue at 130° for 121 to reduce Salmonella bacterial counts.
However, the CDC stated that cooking the placenta does not kill disease pathogens within the placenta.
“The placenta encapsulation process does not per se eradicate infectious pathogens; thus, placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided,” the CDC states.
“Clinicians should inquire about a history of placenta ingestion in cases of late-onset GBS infection and educate mothers interested in placenta encapsulation about the potential risks.”
Dr. Alex Farr, author of the paper for the AGOJ, shared his thoughts on the practice of consuming the placenta.
Dr. Farr is a gynecologist at Austria’s Vienna University. In his statement on the practice, Farr said, “Medically speaking it’s a waste product. Most mammals eat it, but we can only guess why.”
Farr argues that the practice is common in mammals, but the method is not and has never been common for humans to consume. He stated the placenta is part of the newborn, and mothers that eat the placenta are bordering on cannibalism.He added that the “presumed nutrients” in the placenta like zinc, iron, and selenium are not found to in high concentrations.
Even though the placenta doesn’t contain the nutrients and vitamins advocates tout, the practice continues to be popular in online support groups.
We found dozens of conversations in groups associated with natural childbirth discussing the benefits of placenta consumption. Additionally, we saw mothers exchange recipes for making placenta smoothies and encapsulating the placenta.
Based on the responses, eating the tissue can cause nausea and headaches. Additionally, several mothers shared the color of the placenta and smell grossed them out.
As long as celebrities are pushing the practice and midwives suggest placenta consumption to clients, mothers will continue to eat their babies’ placenta.
Scientific evidence doesn’t support any of the reported claims made by the advocates and companies that encapsulate the placenta.
Instead of flirting with cannibalism, doctors recommend working with your provider to discuss post-partum diet, supplements, and medications to treat post-partum depression.
Just because mammals eat their placentas doesn’t mean humans should eat their placentas.
Heck, dogs eat their poop, does that mean we should eat our poop too?
Oh, wait, that’s a post for another day.
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