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More Moms Are Eating Their Own Placentas, In Spite Of The Risks. Why?

Some believe it can improve mood, energy, milk production and can reduce pain and bleeding.
Some mothers have been consuming their placenta post birth for perceived wellness benefits.
Westend61 via Getty Images
Some mothers have been consuming their placenta post birth for perceived wellness benefits.

Chrissy Teigen has said that eating her placenta helped her avoid postpartum depression after the birth of her son Miles. The most delightful smoothie Hillary Duff ever consumed? One that contained her postpartum organ, said the mother of two.

Placenta, a temporary organ that develops inside the uterus of someone who is pregnant, is expelled from the uterus in what's usually referred to as an afterbirth. While the placenta provides nutrientsand support to the fetus, there's a lack of scientific evidence to support the perceived health benefits of a parent consuming it post-childbirth.

Despite this dearth of evidence, placentophagy — the act of eating placenta after childbirth — has become a somewhat growing trend with proponents arguing that many mammals consume their offspring's placenta, and that the practice has been around for several millennia.

Some believe that placentophagy can improve mood, energy, milk production and iron stores in new moms, and can reduce pain and bleeding.

One of the most common ways mothers consume placenta is to have it dried and made into pills. It can be eaten raw, dehydrated into a jerky-like food, cooked, roasted and made into smoothies or elixirs.

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Teigen said that eating her placenta wasn't considered out of place in Los Angeles, where she lives with husband John Legend and their two children, Luna and Miles.

She joked that "they grill it [there]."

But just because some celebs seem to be placenta-pill-popping or grilling, family physician Dr. Sarah Cook advises against eating your placenta.

"Eating the placenta, whether freeze-dried or grilled, is unhealthy," Cook told HuffPost Canada. "There are hormones and toxins that build up. It can cause bacterial and viral infections in both mom and breast-fed newborns."

"I think the reason this is a new 'fad' is celebrity couples are doing it. Kim Kardashian posted pictures of her taking her freeze-dried placenta capsules, and when celebrities promote these fads, they become gospel," added the Toronto-based doctor. "Even though celebrities often have no training in medicine or naturopathy, they make claims and people just believe it."

Asking 'Why?'

Researchers from the University of Toronto set out to study who was eating placenta and why.

Published in the January issue of the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, the researchers used social media to advertise the study to mother/parenting groups. Online discussions were conducted through Google Groups to evaluate the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of women during pregnancy and the postpartum period related to placentophagy.

The researchers found that overall, 24.9 per cent of the study's 1,088 respondents consumed their placentas.

According to the results, the most commonly perceived benefits of placentophagy were decreased postpartum depression, increased iron stores, increased energy/decreased fatigue, and improved lactation.

One respondent commented, "Even [if] placebo, it definitely helped when comparing my recovery with my first."

Some respondents who struggled with problems such as poor lactation and postpartum depression were regretful that they did not consider placentophagy.

Placenta encapsulation specialists turn the organ into pills post birth.
Kansas City Star via Getty Images
Placenta encapsulation specialists turn the organ into pills post birth.

According to the study, American women — who made up the majority of participants in the survey — were significantly more likely to eat their placenta (244 of 271 respondents who said they had engaged in the practice) than their Canadian counterparts (27 of 271).

Women who had experienced pregnancy-related complications were also less likely to consume their placenta than those who didn't experience birth-related difficulties.

The study also found that participants were more likely to engage in placentophagy following the birth of their second child.

Health Canada: Moms probably shouldn't eat their placentas

This past November, Health Canada reminded Canadians that human placenta products are not authorized for consumption in Canada.

"While consuming placenta is a personal choice, we are advising mothers, and others who may be consuming placenta preparations that they should be aware of the potential risks associated with the practice for themselves and their babies," the press release reads.

Because human placenta is a biologic material, it may contain infectious bacteria or viruses, including hepatitis or HIV, Health Canada says. That can lead to infections in new mothers and their babies.

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