Should I Eat My Placenta?

Your placenta: You could dry it and put it in pills. You could stir-fry it with onions. You could even eat it raw in the delivery room.

Don't faint! The act of eating the placenta after you give birth, called placentophagy, isn't just something animals do. Human moms do it, too, including tribal women and glamorous celebrities. You may be wondering whether you should as well.

What Does the Placenta Do?

The placenta, or afterbirth, is the first organ that forms -- even before any of your baby's organs -- after you conceive. It plays an important role in your pregnancy: It connects you and your baby in the uterus and delivers oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to her. It also takes away the waste that she makes.

The placenta grows throughout your pregnancy. It is also the only organ your body makes and then gets rid of. After you give birth, you don't need it anymore. If your baby arrived through vaginal delivery, you'll push it out vaginally. If you have a C-section, the doctor will remove the placenta from your uterus. At delivery time, it weighs about 1 pound. It looks round and flat.

People who support eating the placenta say that it can raise your energy and breast milk quantity. They also say it can level off your hormones, lowering your chances of postpartum depression and insomnia.

Those claims have not been fully tested. So there is no proof that eating your placenta actually does these things. But some experts say we should continue to study it.

In animals other than humans, eating the afterbirth has some perks. It might reduce labor pains in a female dog, for example, as her remaining puppies are born, and it can encourage the mother to bond with her newborns.

Remember, though, that's for a dog, not for a woman.

The placenta does have protein and fats. But those nutrients can be found in a healthy diet.

Human placentophagy isn't new. Throughout history, different cultures have done it, although they don't always think it's a good thing. Some experts think that modern doulas and midwives may recommend placentophagy based on a misunderstanding of scientific literature.

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What to Expect If You Try It

One of the ways that women eat their placenta is dried, powdered, and sealed into capsules. Swallowing a pill with the dried placenta might be easier if you're squeamish about seeing, touching, or tasting the "raw" tissue itself. Often a midwife can prepare the pills for you. But one of the things we don't know is whether heating it offsets any of its benefits.

Since there's little research on eating the afterbirth, it's hard to know how you will feel. Most women who want or expect to feel good or better after eating placenta do feel that way. But that may be just a placebo effect.

Some women have said they feel sick after eating it. If you research online or talk to women who have tried it, you can get varied opinions. But those are based on personal experience, not scientific evidence.

How to Decide If It's for You

While there doesn't seem to be any proof that eating your placenta can help you, there is some proof that it can hurt. If you eat it "fresh" or raw, it might spread infection. Even processing your placenta by putting it in capsules might spoil it with bacteria or viruses.

Some hospitals may not allow you to take it or eat it. So if you're considering it, ask ahead of time about their policy.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on September 08, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Kristal, M. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, May 25, 2012.

Merck Manuals: "Stages of Development of the Fetus."

National Childbirth Trust: "Third Stage of Labour."

News release, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Ober, W. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Jun 1979.

ScienceBasedMedicine.org: "Eating Placentas: Cannibalism, Recycling, or Health Food?"

Wang, Y. and Zhao, S. Vascular Biology of the Placenta, Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences, 2010.

WHO Reproductive Health Library: "Methods of delivering the placenta at caesarean section."

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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