Eat your placenta? My reaction is probably the most common one – I’m not so sure about that. But lots of women are considering the idea.
What is the placenta?
The placenta is fetal tissue attached to your uterus during pregnancy that protects and helps your baby develop. Nutrients, blood, and oxygen from your body are absorbed into the placenta and delivered to the baby through the umbilical cord. Likewise, carbon dioxide and other waste products from the baby are passed back to your body for disposal. It also provides a barrier preventing other chemicals from gaining access to the developing fetus.
In the vast majority of our deliveries, the placenta is considered medical waste and thrown away. Your doctor may recommend an analysis of the placenta if you had a complication with your pregnancy. The results can help us explain why the complication occurred and determine the likelihood of reoccurrence in a future pregnancy.
Why would you think about eating your placenta?
Eating your placenta – or placentophagy – has become more popular in recent years after Kourtney Kardashian, Alicia Silverstone, and other celebrities recommended it, raving about the physical and emotional benefits. Many animals eat their placenta after giving birth, leading some placentophagy supporters to wonder why we don’t do the same. However, anthropologists have not found much evidence that it was ever part of human culture.
Many women choose placenta encapsulation, where the placenta is dried and processed into pills. You can find ads for companies providing this service in local magazines. Other women choose to blend the placenta in a smoothie, or cook it with everyday recipes.
Some women believe eating their placenta helps with postpartum recovery. Others have claimed it helped them avoid postpartum depression, produce more breastmilk, and recover more quickly from childbirth.
Taking your placenta home
Texas legislators changed the rules this year about taking your placenta home from the hospital. Starting in 2016, a new law will make it easier for women who give birth at Texas hospitals to legally claim their placentas (the current law only applies to women who deliver at Texas birthing centers). Our patients may claim their placentas before the new law goes into effect, but we require the placenta to be released to a funeral home – the staff is trained to handle human tissue. Other hospitals in Texas require you to obtain a court order before they will give you the placenta to take home.
Not all women who ask to take their placenta home plan to eat it. Families may want to plant a tree to commemorate the birth of their child and bury the placenta under it. Placentas are also used to make jewelry or art prints as keepsakes.
My opinion about placentophagy
We’ve had lots of conversations about this practice in our office. Our theory is that it’s very difficult for a woman to acknowledge that she ate her placenta and enjoyed no benefit from doing so.
That said, we will have more information about consuming placental tissue in the future. Researchers at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas have completed a small, randomized trial to investigate the benefits and risks associated with placentophagy. Half the women in their study took capsules with dried placenta and half took capsules with a placebo inside. The researchers are looking at all kinds of things, including hormones and biomarkers.
With the risk of infection these days, I am also concerned with any kind of tissue from the hospital ending up in my food, especially if the tissue is going to be eaten without being processed. The vagina is loaded with bacteria that can potentially infect the placenta when it is delivered. But processing is another concern – placenta encapsulation is not an FDA-regulated process, so it’s difficult to be certain that the capsules contain exactly what you think they do.
My bottom line? So far there’s no scientific proof of any benefit to eating your placenta. Until there is, I won’t be recommending the practice to any patient.
Talk to your Ob/Gyn and the staff in Labor and Delivery if you are considering eating your placenta or want to take it home with you. You can always request an appointment online or call 214-645-8300 to learn more.