No, we’re not talking about a scene from True Blood or some other vampire flick. We’re talking about a new trend in childbirth. And while it might sound like something straight out of a horror movie to some people, placenta eating has been shown to provide impressive health benefits to the postpartum mother. Curious? Read on for more tidbits on placenta, the new superfood.
Placenta Eating 101
A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine told me that she was planning on eating her placenta. My first reaction was complete horror and shock. And I might have thrown up in my mouth just a bit. Though I usually consider myself pretty crunchy and progressive, I guess I was in the dark on this topic. “What?” I sputtered, trying not to regurgitate the entire contents of my stomach onto the telephone.
But my friend was not deterred. She had done the research. She was an informed placenta-eater. She began to list off the many incredible benefits that can be gained by a new mother who feasts on her baby’s afterbirth. While placentophagy is not widely encouraged in the United States and considered nothing more than medical waste in most American hospitals, studies have shown that women who eat their placenta experience less postpartum depression, increased breast milk production, less risk for postpartum hemorrhage and improved hormonal regulation through the replenishing of vital nutrients.
Because the placenta is an organ formed to nourish the growing fetus, it contains many essential vitamins and nutrients that can help to rejuvenate a woman who has just given birth. According to DONA certified doula and childbirth educator Rosemary Walker, “The placenta is like a superfood specific to the mother whose body produced it, similar to the way breast milk regulates perfectly to the baby it is designed for. It contains iron, protein, vitamin B6, oxytocin and other essential hormones and nutrients that are specifically tailored to the mother who just gave birth. It is a very powerful holistic medicine that helps bring the new mother back in balance, as well as providing many other benefits during the postpartum healing process.”
Cultural Significance of the Placenta
It is interesting that the placenta is considered nothing more than medical biohazard here in the United States, while in many cultures around the world it is either seen a form of holistic medicine or the focus of a sacred birth ritual.
Placenta has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years for many of the reasons mentioned above. In Italy, the placenta is used to increase breast milk production. The placenta is used in Vietnam to help the mother recover from birth. In Hungary, women bite the placenta to help the completion of labor. Even in the United States, there is a growing movement among those interested in natural healthcare to use the placenta to regulate hormones, ward off postpartum depression and increase milk production, as well as other benefits.
Celebrities Eating Placentas
And if you are not convinced already, well then, you might consider that fact that even major celebrities like Tom Cruise are becoming placenta eating activists. When Tom Cruise was being interviewed by GQ magazine before the birth of Suri, he made his placenta eating intentions quite clear. He even became a little combative. “You don’t know placentas,” Tom said. “I do. I’ve studied placentas. I know dozens of ways to prepare them. I know what wines go with them. What do you know?”