Healthy Postpartum Care

No, You Shouldn’t Eat Your Placenta

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Eating the placenta after delivering a baby may sound gross, but celebrity moms from January Jones to Kim Kardashian claim ingesting the placenta after birth boosts milk production, increases energy and staves off postpartum depression. What harried new mom wouldn’t want some of that?

FAQ on Placenta Eating (aka Placentophagy)

Despite the initial ick factor, eating the placenta after having a baby, also called placentophagy, is definitely a trend, not just in Hollywood but across the United States, says Melodee Babcock, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health System. But just because people do it doesn’t make it safe. Read on for Babcock’s answers to your most pressing placenta questions.

Q: Why are women eating their placentas?

A: In certain cultures, healers use the placenta to target certain health conditions. But there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that eating the placenta can resolve postpartum depression and boost recovery. Instead, women may jump on the placenta-eating bandwagon because someone they know or respect claims it’s “the best thing ever!” to squash troublesome post-baby complaints such as low energy, fatigue and irritability. Proponents believe the placenta is a rich source of nutrients and hormones, including the hormones oxytocin, prolactin and prostaglandin, which can help boost milk production and return the uterus to its prepregnancy status. While it’s true the placenta has been found to contain these hormones, it also contains iron and studies show there is likely not enough iron to reach therapeutic levels. Studies have never provided evidence that ingesting these hormones by eating placenta has any health benefit.

Furthermore, anthropologic studies do not support that this was ever a routine part of postpartum care among our ancestors.

Q: What is the role of the placenta?

A: The placenta’s primary role is to deliver oxygen and nutrients to a developing baby. But it also acts as a filter, removing waste products and preventing toxins from reaching the baby. So when you think about the function of the placenta, ask yourself, why would I want to consume that?

Q: How is the placenta prepared for consumption?

A: It runs the gamut. Some people consume it raw in a smoothie. Others cook it and put it in lasagna and stews. Still others make it into capsules they can pop during the postpartum period. This complex process requires steaming the placenta, dehydrating it and then grinding it into a powder before stuffing it into 100 to 200 capsules. The problem, of course, is that there’s no standardized process for preparing a placenta for human consumption. Improper handling, as with any food substance, can pose a risk of illness.

Q: What are the risks involved with eating the placenta?

A: There’s evidence to suggest that the placenta is teeming with harmful bacteria, such as group B streptococcus. So if your plan is to eat your placenta, you’ll probably ingest that bacteria, too. In addition, if the placenta contains enough hormones such as estrogen to have a therapeutic effect, it can pose serious risks for the safety of mom and baby. Hormones in the placenta could increase the risk of blood clots following delivery.

Q: Can I get my placenta after delivery?

A: Most hospitals that routinely deliver babies, including Henry Ford hospitals, have a policy in place about transferring the placenta to the family after delivery. If you want to plant the placenta in the ground, create art with it, do something ceremonial with it or eat it (even though we don’t think it’s a good idea), it still needs to be examined before it can be released from the facility. If the doctor or midwife detects any abnormality or communicable disease such as HIV or hepatitis, the placenta needs to be disposed of in the hospital setting.

Safer Solutions for Postpartum Care

While eating your placenta isn’t the safest practice, there are myriad things you can do to alleviate postpartum issues. Babcock’s top picks:

  • Sleep when the baby sleeps: The postpartum period can be tough, particularly when you have a baby eating every two hours around the clock. Take a cue from your newborn and sleep whenever he/she is snoozing.
  • Fuel your body: Eat a healthy diet boasting plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein (like fish, poultry, nuts and seeds).
  • Stay hydrated: Water not only helps flush out toxins, it can also keep your milk supply up (if you’re nursing).
  • Ask for help: If people come to visit you and the baby, don’t feel like you have to entertain them. Instead, enlist them to help you with household chores — laundry, meal preparation and cleaning. You can even ask them to take older children to the park so you and the baby can get some rest.

If you’re crying around the clock, feeling disconnected from the baby, or like you don’t want to get out of bed and eat or feed the baby, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your health care provider. Postpartum depression is treatable.

Related Topic: Understanding Postpartum Depression

For more information about prenatal care, birthing options or postpartum care, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) to get help.

Henry Ford also offers Perinatal Outreach Support and Treatment, or POST, to pregnant and postpartum women who are suffering from mood disorders. You can schedule appointments through the West Bloomfield Women’s Health Clinic at (248) 661-6425.

Melodee Babcock, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife, seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Livonia and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.