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Should I eat my placenta?

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I am hearing this question more and more from my clients. The placenta is indeed an amazing organ.

It is the only organ the body makes that is then expelled, and is only required during pregnancy. It is the first thing to start growing after you conceive, and it is the vital connection between you and your growing baby. Through the placenta the baby receives oxygen, nutrients and hormones. The placenta also removes and filters any waste the baby makes.

Ingesting your placenta is known as placentophagy. People who ingest their placenta do so a number of ways. By eating it raw in the birthing unit, cooking it at home, blending it in a smoothie, or having it dried and put into capsules – known as placental encapsulation. Placental encapsulation is often undertaken by a person in their own home. That person may or may not be a health or science professional.

The theory of ingesting your placenta comes from two ideas. The first is that some wild animals often eat their placenta, therefore we should too. The second is that eating your placenta can bring benefits including increased energy and breast milk quantity, stabilised hormones, lower chance of postnatal depression, and nutrition from protein, fat, and iron.

There are two reasons wild animals eat their placenta – either because they do not have access to good nutrition after having just given birth, or to protect their young from predators. Keep in mind; both are unlikely to be a concern for most women.

There is also a lack of solid evidence to support any of the reported benefits of placentophagy, although scientists continue to research it. From the archives of Women’s Mental Health, a review looked at 10 studies of placentophagy and found no data to support any claims of health benefits. The consensus at this stage is that placentophagy has a placebo effect only.

There are some interesting schools of thought regarding the risks of placentophagy. Ingesting human organs could spread infection through bacteria or viruses, even when processed into a capsule. In addition, as the placenta works like a filter it may have high levels of potentially dangerous substances such as mercury. Finally, there may be risks associated with your baby being a different blood group, if you carry Group B streptococcus (GBS), or if there was meconium in your amniotic fluid.

Similarly, with placental encapsulation, there is a risk in taking capsules that have been processed in somebody’s home rather than a laboratory. Unfortunately there is no guarantee about what you are getting, whether there has been any cross-contamination with another person’s placenta, or how it has been processed. If you choose placental encapsulation I would recommend discussing it with your midwife, doctor, or obstetrician.

There are other options to include the placenta as part of your postnatal experience. You can consider making a print of the placenta, or planting it in a special place in your garden. There is also the lotus birth option – but that is a topic for another post! If you are looking for added protein, fat, and iron as you recover from birth I would personally choose something a little tastier – like a nice steak or some chickpeas roasted with healthy oil.

If you would like to know more about placentophagy, placental encapsulation, and recovery after birth book in your private appointment with me by visiting childbirtheducation.com.au

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