It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but eating your placenta isn’t nearly as scary as you think — and there are some very compelling reasons why you should consider doing so. Not only is placentophagy (the fancy name for eating your own placenta) an instinctive and natural part of giving birth for most mammals, but the placenta is a valued part of postpartum recovery in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
While no scientific studies have proven one way or the other that eating your placenta will bring about any health benefits, many midwives, doulas, and holistic practitioners swear by the healing properties of this amazing organ.
1. Placenta Can Make You Happy
Now, we aren’t talking martini-night-out-with-the-girls happy, but eating your placenta is believed to boost those natural happy, bonding hormones that new mothers might not always generate on their own after birth. Since 80% of women experience some level of postpartum blues or depression, it is unsurprising that natural remedies of “baby blues” are frequently being sought after. Some mothers who have tried eating their placenta, like Heather at Mommypotamus, not only experienced decreased mood swings, but also better concentration, reduction of night sweats, and the soothing of several other symptoms of hormonal imbalance that can occur after birth.
Ingesting the placenta increases release of the hormone oxytocin — the same hormone that triggers bonding with your new baby. Doctors suggest that low levels of oxytocin after birth could be a leading cause of postpartum depression. Placenta also contains vitamins and minerals needed for physical and emotional well-being, including B6, a vitamin recommended for enhancing mood and avoiding or recovering from fatigue.
2. A Nursing Mother’s Best Friend
Any help a woman can get wth breastfeeding is of great benefit, since women can struggle with this in the beginning. Along with all those great nutrients and hormones, placenta also has prolactin — as in pro-lactation — which is a key hormone in milk production. Some mothers and caregivers recommend adding a prebiotic to the placenta to help increase milk production benefits.
Mothers such as myself and Genevieve over at Mama Natural saw an increase in milk production within 24 hours after ingesting placenta. This can be great if your milk production is low, but if you have an oversupply, this might be tough. Even with this somewhat unpleasant side effect, neither of us felt it was enough of an issue to stop using placenta because of other amazing benefits.
It takes time for your milk supply to stabilize, so this particular benefit is one that might need to be handled with watchful care. Your placenta’s hormonal make-up is completely unique to you as the mother. No prescription, vitamin, or herbal supplement can do what your placenta can.
3. Avoid Postpartum Anemia
Placenta is full of iron, which is a great benefit as a new mom. Women bleed during birth, of course, and bleeding afterwards is often described as similar to a very heavy period. Women have a higher chance of anemia during their menstruation and after childbirth. Many mothers who have used placenta to help increase their iron levels prefer it to iron supplements. Supplements can cause constipation, something many mothers already have issues with. Many moms that supplemented with their placenta did not report experiencing this particular side effect and have tried it in combination with their regular prenatal vitamin. Not only did placenta help many moms restore iron levels in the body, but it also helped decrease the lochia (postpartum bleeding).
4. Placenta as a Physical Healer
Not all women realize this when they are pregnant (and perhaps it’s for the best!), but childbirth leaves a placenta-sized gash in your uterus. This is a large wound that needs to heal, especially when accompanied with the trauma your body endures after pushing out a small human. After having a baby, the uterus returns back to its normal size as bleeding occurs.
One of the benefits of eating your placenta is that it helps this very physical healing process. Just as placenta helps release oxytocin to aid in the blissful bonding of mother and child, it also releases oxytocin to trigger the uterus needs to heal. Pitocin — the synthetic form of oxytocin — is often given to women after they have a baby to encourage the uterus to contract back down to size and dispel any blood, clots, and tissue leftover after the baby is born. Strengthening oxytocin production can help the body to perform these same tasks without the side effects of the synthetic version.
5. It’s Not as Gross as You Think
Eating your placenta doesn’t have to resemble the Game of Thrones scene where Daenerys Targaryen eats the raw horse heart like a crazed, starving, warrior woman (this was the first thought that came into my head when someone mentioned placentophagy to me a year ago). Despite the “ick” factor that eating placenta triggers in the minds of most Westerners, many mothers choose to eat their placenta in a traditional way — cooking it much as you would other organ meat and eating it as it or hiding it within savory dishes.
Today, women can enjoy the benefits of modern medicine and have their placenta encapsulated! Taking your daily placenta vitamin is a better, less shocking way of describing the method of ingestion. Some women choose to encapsulate their placenta themselves by cutting it up into small pieces, dehydrating and grinding, then putting the desiccated organ into gelatin capsules. Others, like myself, choose a hands-off method by paying for someone else to do the dirty work. I was lucky enough that my midwives at the birth center I attended offered this service.
Another way to take your placenta is in tincture form. This lasts longer than the capsules, and there is usually enough of the organ to make both — the pills to take right after birth, and the tincture to take in the following year or two. Tinctures also have the benefit of being easier to take on the go, which is great if you are using placenta as a mood stabilizer. Capsules are usually kept refrigerated, while a tincture can be put in the diaper bag alongside the diaper salve and nipple cream.
When You Should NOT Eat Your Placenta
While eating your placenta has many purported benefits, there are some instances when consuming the placenta is not recommended.
[bctt tweet=”There are some instances when consuming the placenta is not recommended”]
If your placenta was not handled, stored, or transferred properly after birthing, you should not ingest it. Placenta is an organ and, just like any other meat organ that you intend to ingest, should be handled and prepared with care.
For example, since my birth plan changed and I ended up in the hospital, I made sure the nurses knew my plans for my placenta. Many hospitals will mark the placenta as biological waste unless otherwise informed. After my placenta was birthed, they checked it over for any signs of deformation or other health problems. They then stored the organ in a fridge for me and were kind enough to have it taken to my midwives in the same manner organ donations are shipped (I’m assuming from what movies I’ve seen that it was carried in a beer cooler full of ice). From there, the midwives quickly encapsulated and tinctured the organ for me. While that sounds simple enough, everything that went into keeping my placenta clean and cared for at a specific temperature was necessary to keep me safe.
If your placenta shows any signs of deformation or toxicity, you should not ingest it.
I mention that the doctors checked my placenta before sending it to the midwives. The midwives also checked the organ. Just as babies can sometimes be born with deformations or health issues, so can your placenta. Tumors, cancer cells, and other diseases can show up on placenta and are usually good tells for any issues a baby or mother might have. Unhealthy placentas will not carry the necessary health benefits and could be toxic if ingested.
If your spiritual beliefs hold placenta to be a holy organ that requires specific treatment such as sacred burial or lotus birthing, you should not eat your placenta.
By all means, do not eat your placenta if you practice a belief system that does not condone it.
If it is illegal in your state to remove the placenta from the hospital, do not do so. Yes, this is a thing. Some states list placenta among other body organs and, as such, cannot be removed from the hospital for any reason.
While thousands of women have experienced these benefits and more after eating their placenta, none of these benefits have been proven scientifically. There have been some women who experienced dizziness and other minor side effects after eating their placenta. In all cases, be sure to discuss your placenta plans with your health care provider and consider all of your options.
What about you? Is this something you would consider or have done? We’d love to hear in the comments!
Article Written by December Fields-Bryant