While eating your placenta after giving birth may not seem like a culinary delight, placenta consumption is becoming an increasingly popular postpartum practice.
That’s thanks in part to placenta encapsulation making it more palatable – but why are so many women doing it?
Why placenta consumption
It’s pretty common in the animal world for mammalian mums to eat their own afterbirth, and there are a few different theories on why they do it.
Some believe because the placenta contains prostaglandin and oxycontin it helps ease the stress of birth in mammals. Others say it’s simply a way for animals to hide the fact they’ve given birth from lurking predators.
In humans, there’s a belief that placenta consumption – either raw or encapsulated – can help reduce postnatal depression, ease after-pains, increase energy and iron levels, help with breastfeeding and even promote a stronger bond with baby.
Birth Doula and Placenta Specialist Felicity Meisel says for many women placenta consumption is about preparing for the postnatal journey and, “having something on hand to replenish their body with, aside from traditional medicine”.
What is placenta encapsulation?
While there are women who eat their placenta after cooking it, or even raw, the most popular consumption method is placenta encapsulation.
Felicity explained to Mum’s Grapevine that mums-to-be are educated on how to store the placenta after giving birth, and how to ensure the process is hygienic.
“For the most part, the placenta is collected soon after the birth of the baby, and processed by the placenta encapsulator.
“It is washed (sometimes weighed and photographed), sliced, and placed in the dehydrator for drying. Once the placenta is dried, it is then ground into powder and carefully encapsulated for ease of consumption.”
Felicity says it’s important that women follow a few key steps when embarking on their encapsulation journey:
- Choose a specialist with experience, one who provides clear information, with a price that meets your budget.
- Choosing a trained and verified Placenta Specialist has been made easier with the formation of Placenta Services Australia (PSA).
- PSA has been set up to maintain integrity and professional standards amongst placenta specialists.
- Members of PSA are verified as being fully trained and holding current certificates relevant to this process.
Have the benefits been proven?
One of the most recent studies on placenta consumption, or placentophagy, found that there was no human or animal data that supported the claimed benefits.
“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,” says corresponding study author Dr Crystal Clark.
“The studies on mice aren’t translatable into human benefits.”
And, the Northwestern Medicine research found there are no studies that examine the risk of placenta ingestion.
“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,” says lead author Cynthia Coyle.
Placenta Specialist Felicity Meisel says there are few comprehensive studies on the benefits, and much of the evidence is anecdotal.
“For the most part, women who have consumed their placenta will tell their friends, write testimonials for the placenta encapsulator to share with potential clients, and share their experience of what got them through those first eight weeks after bringing their baby home.”
Women considering placenta encapsulation are encouraged to get medical advice.