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Placentophagy, or the ingestion of the placenta after giving birth, has gained interest in recent years, especially in the United States. Various methods of consumption exist, including raw, cooked, steamed and dehydrated. The placenta can even be dried and encapsulated, then taken as a supplement over the postpartum period. There is growing research on placentophagy, but to date, there is no strong evidence to support it. In fact, it is not without risk.
Let’s discuss seven common myths.
Myth #1: It gives new moms more energy.
Some new moms think placenta ingestion will boost their energy during recovery. The placenta does in fact contain vitamins and minerals including iron and B12. Metabolic studies in moms who consume their placenta versus those who don’t, however, have shown no significant difference. Moms who do report more energy from placentophagy may likely be experiencing a placebo effect, feeling empowered by their decision.
Myth #2: It increases milk production.
In studies on this subject, no benefit was noted among women who consume their placenta. Milk production is actually stimulated after delivery by the rise of prolactin levels, not by hormones like estradiol and progesterone thought to be present in the placenta.
Myth #3: It decreases the risk of postpartum depression.
A common misunderstanding is that hormones contained in the placenta will help prevent postpartum depression. Some theorize hormones depleted during childbirth can be quickly replenished by ingesting the placenta. Studies have actually shown little to no difference in postpartum depression risk between women who ingest their placenta and those who don’t, even among women with a history of mood disorders.
Myth #4: It provides a nutrient boost for mom and baby.
A healthy, balanced diet will generally provide new moms with all the fiber, protein and nutrients they need. Adding a multivitamin or placenta will not contribute significantly to missing nutrients from the diet. In less developed countries, however, diet alone may not be an adequate source for nutrition.
Myth #5: It will help reduce pain and speed healing.
Some evidence has been found in animal studies to support this theory. However, there is no indication to date for human benefit.
Myth #6: The placenta is safe for consumption.
There are just so many reasons why the placenta should not be consumed. To start with, the placenta is not a sterile organ. It contains toxins like mercury and lead, as well as potential bacteria and viruses. It even has its own bacterial culture. Any infection during labor will, most likely, be present in the placental tissue. Cooking the placenta decreased these pathogens, but cannot get rid of them completely.
Science-based studies of placentophagy to date indicate the risk of placenta consumption is far greater than any benefit, as bacteria and toxins can be passed to mom and baby (if nursing). There is even a documented case of an infant contracting group B Streptococcus sepsis (GBS) from contaminated placenta capsules.
Myth #7: Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women prohibits placentophagy.
At Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, we do not advocate or encourage placentophagy. There is simply not enough evidence to support the benefits, but there is significant evidence to validate risk. Most states in the U.S. lack clear guidelines to regulate placentophagy. However, some states, including Texas, explicitly allow mothers to take their placentas home from the hospital. Most commonly, the placenta is treated as medical waste and is incinerated. Ultimately, we understand each patient is unique and has certain expectations for their delivery and postpartum experience. At our hospital, we have protocols in place for returning a placenta to the patient, if desired. We encourage anyone considering placentophagy to discuss it with their doctor to gain a thorough understanding of the risks.