Updated December 2018:
So, likely you’ve heard of this by now. It’s becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ with some modern new mothers. You guessed it, I’m talking about eating your placenta….
Yep, it’s a real thing, and Kim Kardashian just did it. If you really haven’t heard of this, or are going ‘blech, that’s gross, why would I do that!!?” let me give you a little background.
Now most people don’t just grab their placenta moments after their baby is born, and and eat it like the cringe worthy scene from Dancing with Wolves where they eat the raw liver of the buffalo they just killed. In the words of Kim Kardashian when discussing her plans for placentophagy (eating your placenta) she said “I mean that I’m having it freeze-dried and made into a pill form—not actually fry it like a steak and eat it (which some people do, BTW).” It’s true, some women will cook it and eat it, some will cut it up into a few chunks, freeze it and make placenta smoothies, but most consume pills filled with placenta powder. Their placenta is either steamed and dehydrated, or just dehydrated raw, then crushed into a powder so it can be put into capsules.
Usually, it seems that this is a topic of discussion in the more ‘natural’ birth crowd. Women who want to get back to the primal, natural ways of birth from the past. Midwives and doulas are often well versed, and there’s even a new profession called ‘Placenta Encapsulators’ who will tell you all the benefits they’ve heard of that the new mother will enjoy. Now, I LOVE natural birth (although really I love any birth that gets you a baby and keeps you all alive) and I love anything that the mother feels will help her, but when it comes to eating placenta, the nurse in me wants to see the research…. but unfortunately at this point, there are no real studies.
The usual benefits that are touted by individuals are increased energy, decrease in post partum depression, decreased pain and even improved breastmilk supply. As with many ‘alternative’ therapies, there is often a lag between anecdotal benefits and the actual research that can ensure that this is real. In this case, I would love it if all this were true! Wouldn’t we all? Maybe not everyone would be game to eat their placenta, but if it could help women, why not? Well that’s the problem.
Recently I have heard a few well known breastfeeding clinics and researchers in Canada and the U.S. have been raising a red flag over the claims of increased breastmilk if mothers ingest their placentas. They are NOT recommending eating placenta pills because it could potentially DECREASE breastmilk supply. Now, the Lactation Consultant in me takes over. Whaaaaat?
If you want to get into the hormones of it, it makes sense. The birth of the placenta causes a sharp drop in the progesterone in the mother’s body. This rapid drop signals the start of the lactation process. Also, throughout breastfeeding, progesterone levels remain very low.
If you didn’t already guess from that convenient biology lesson, placenta has progesterone in it. If a mother has ‘retained placenta’ (or a piece of placenta stuck inside after her baby’s birth) it is well known that she can have trouble with her milk supply. What if the same is true if the mother is actually EATING progesterone for weeks or MONTHS after her baby is born…. It makes sense.
Often the ‘proof’ that humans should eat their placenta is that we are mammals too, and almost all mammals eat their placentas! The difference is that they DO eat it raw, and they eat it right away. They aren’t making it into little pills and keeping it going for so long. What if we are making trouble for ourselves?
Now, I’m not saying everyone will have issues. Just like the great things that are possible for some, not all women say that there was any benefit they noticed from eating their placenta. It’s the same with this theory. There is no real research either way. I just think it’s important that this trend isn’t just a fad that mothers are jumping into. I want to make sure they are aware that it’s not an iron-clad proven thing. Until there are REAL studies (which may never happen since someone would have to pay for it!) we really can’t be sure. Mothers may still feel really sure that this will benefit them, and they feel ok about the risks and that’s great!
Placenta Art by Amelia Rebolo: Birth & Postpartum Doula, Placenta and Breastmilk artist – Nutmeg Consulting
We actually have a Doulas at Nutmeg Consulting who are Placenta Specialists who used to offer this service, however in December 2018, Health Canada banned companies/individuals from providing this service because it was not always being done in a safe and careful way!
(we always had the clients take their own placenta home so they were aware of the storage and handling safety, and that they didn’t get the wrong placenta!… Our doulas also followed strict food safety handling protocols among other things…)
Well now the focus is on ceremony, and so as a Placenta Artist, our doula Amelia Rebolo can make artistic prints with the placenta and umbilical cord as a memory or tribute to this super cool organ that helped to grow your baby!
If people are intending to DIY their encapsulation (which is now the only allowable option) there are several recommendations that I LOVE, and would recommend!
- Either you eat your placenta right away in a smoothie (a la mammals) or WAIT 2-3 weeks to make sure that there is no hormonal influence that could affect milk supply. Also, by around 2 weeks, the full milk supply should be sorted out (if all is going well with breastfeeding) so it would be easy to tell if there was any negative effect happening. This is all very reassuring to me!
- Ensure that your placenta is kept cold, just like you would store and handle any meat before you eat it.
- Make sure the placenta is steamed/cooked to a high enough temperature that bacteria/viruses are killed before dehydration, and never consume a placenta if there is suspected infection at birth.
Mothers should ultimately make a decision that feels right to them! Follow your instinct all the way. I just want to make sure that moms know there may actually be an answer to Kim’s question….. ‘why not?’.