We can blame much of this placenta hubbub on celebrities who have famously dined on placenta after birth, turning it into a bonafide trend. (Thanks a lot, Kourtney Kardashian and Alicia Silverstone.) I personally have known several moms who have gone down the placenta encapsulation route, swearing that it helped curb and even prevent early postpartum depression.
A recent study published in the journal Archives of Women's Mental Health reviewed 10 published papers that examined the health benefits of eating placenta, called placentophagy. Within this review, researchers were unable to find any conclusive data to support eating placenta to prevent postpartum depression, reduce post-labor pain and increase energy.
Corresponding study author Dr. Crystal Clark confirms, "There are a lot of subjective reports from women who perceived benefits, but there hasn't been any systematic research investigating the benefits or the risk of placenta ingestion."
Dr. Clark brings up an important point. We constantly hear a buzz about women choosing to eat their placentas because of the inarguably "natural" postpartum health benefits (it came from your body, after all, so why not take a bite?), but we rarely examine the other side of the coin in our new mom circles: the potential risk. Since a placenta serves as a filter to protect a baby during pregnancy, it is possible that environmental toxins could build up in the placenta.
Lead author and psychologist Cynthia Coyle continues, "Our sense is that women choosing placentophagy, who may otherwise be very careful about what they are putting into their bodies during pregnancy and nursing, are willing to ingest something without evidence of its benefits and, more importantly, of its potential risks to themselves and their nursing infants."
The study goes on to say that while it is a totally normal practice for non-human placental mammals to eat their placenta after birth, the first documented accounts of women munching on placenta came about in the 1970s in North America. Nowadays, placenta has become just another choice on the new mom menu: Unmedicated or epidural? Breastfeeding or formula? How do you like your placenta, in a smoothie, fried up like a steak or as a pill?
When I gave birth at home to my second son, my midwives offered me my placenta proudly as if it was my post-labor grand prize for all the hard work I had done. They were also excited to show me that my placenta had naturally grown into the shape of a heart. My husband and I politely declined hanging on to my internal organ for further use. For some reason, placenta eating just never seemed like my cup of tea.
For the many moms I know who have eaten placenta and have felt benefits, I am truly happy for you. This falls into yet another category of mothering called "you do you." But the biggest takeaway from this new study is that the placenta eating trend does not have scientific backing. In some cases, it could even carry risk. Coyle points out that while more research is needed, it is in your best interest to talk with your doctor before you chow down on this postpartum snack.
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