With the help of celebrity hype, mothers everywhere are praising the wonders of consuming the placenta after childbirth. Most moms seem to go the route of “placenta encapsulation,” which basically means turning your placenta into easily consumable pills. Others put placenta in shakes and some just cook it up. Sometimes, dads join in.
The lore is that placenta has special vitamins and nutrients that can boost health, prevent depression, increase energy, and even aid in weight loss. After reviewing ten studies on placentaphagy, however, Northwestern Medicine couldn’t find any support to these claims. All perceived benefits seem to be chalked up to the placebo effect.
Part of the placenta’s job is to help remove toxins–but there is a very real concern about whether there are any risks to eating this biological material, especially if a mom is breastfeeding.
Cynthia Coyle, a Feinberg faculty member and a psychologist, the lead author on the findings, reported the following:
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.
Coyle added, “There are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent. Women really don’t know what they are ingesting.”
A recent and high-profile Texas law rules that it’s within a woman’s rights to choose to take her placenta home from the hospital to do what she wants with it. Texas classifies placentas as medical waste, and hospitals worry about liability when a patient tastes home something that may be infectious and spread disease.
For Melissa Mathis, who gave birth to her daughter in Dallas last year, the issue is about her rights to her own body. “As far as I was concerned it was a part of my body that was in my body. So it wasn’t like something, it didn’t really feel that strange to me,” she says. When the hospital wouldn’t give her a clear answer about what she could do with her placenta, she and her husband just grabbed it when no one was looking and took it home in a cooler.