Believe it or not, the custom of consuming the placenta is centuries old. In some cultures, especially among the Chinese, it is tradition to prepare the placenta for consumption by the new mother because it is thought to be rich in nutrients that the woman needs to recover more quickly from childbirth.
Even here in the United States, the practice is gaining traction as more and more moms are choosing to save their placentas to consume during the first weeks of motherhood. Are there any real benefits or risks to this practice? We asked Sheila Chhutani, M.D., OB/GYN on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, to weigh in.
“Basically, the placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy to provide the lifeline between a mother and her unborn child,” Chhutani first explains. “Connected by the umbilical cord, the placenta passes essential nutrients and oxygen from mother to baby, enabling growth and development over the course of nine months.”
The placenta also filters out any waste products or substances to help prevent baby from contracting harmful infections. It continues to grow and nourish baby until it is expelled during the final stage of labor, after the baby has been delivered.
Though the placenta is typically considered medical waste, some women are choosing to encapsulate it for later consumption — usually by drying it, then grinding it into a powder that is placed in pills. The American Pregnancy Association notes that encapsulated pills may then be taken shortly after birth, or even during a woman’s menstrual period or menopause with the belief that it helps counter some of the negative symptoms.
“Evidence suggests it can lead to an increase in energy due to the iron in the placenta, as well as help restore hormonal balance after giving birth,” Chhutani says. “Hormones such as oestrogen, lactogen and progesterone are vital for a healthy pregnancy, and the placenta is key in their production. I’ve also had some patients who have heard it can help ward off insomnia and postpartum depression, or ‘the baby blues.’”
Some women who consume their placenta also report an increase in milk production, as well as increased bonding with their infant.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the choice to save and consumer your placenta as a mom is yours, and it is important that you decide what is best for you. Chhutani points out that there is little scientific research available regarding placental encapsulation and consumption and its benefits. “Much evidence of the power of the placenta is anecdotal or based on individual women’s stories. There is as of yet no good research to show that it can provide a benefit for all women.”
However, when prepared and stored correctly, placental encapsulation appears to have no inherent risk when consumed solely by the mother. Consumption by other family members may pass along blood-borne diseases. Additionally, the placenta must be kept refrigerated in order to prevent bacteria growth.
“As long as there are no infectious disease concerns, it’s not harmful,” Chhutani adds. “If a mother thinks it is right for her and is going to make her feel better, then I don’t recommend against it. She should be sure to talk with her physician about the proper procedure for storage and consumption.”