For those who didn’t know, and quite frankly why would you, placentophagy is the act of mammals – including humans – consuming the placenta following birth.
Although my instinctive reaction to such a practice is EWWW!!!!, in the spirit of objective investigation I thought it would be a good idea to look at the pros and cons of placenta-eating.
The placenta nourishes your baby, connecting the mother’s blood supply to the developing fetus. It basically looks like a reddish purple blob, which is expelled usually by half an hour after the birth of the baby and marks the official end of labour. Placentas are rich in hormones and vitamins, for example B6, which is supposed to help combat post-natal depression, increase lactation and generally help you feel better. A recent article delightfully titled “Steamed, dehydrated or raw” describes a study carried out by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It claims that a mother’s postpartum health can be improved by ingesting the placenta, even if this is only a “perceived” benefit. 76% of the 189 women surveyed reported a very positive experience following their placentophagy.
Celebs eat placentas, too. There were rumours back in the day that Tom Cruise was going to eat Katie Holmes’, and January Jones admitted she ate hers in the form of capsules after the birth of her son Xander, claiming “it’s a very civilised thing that can help women with depression or fatigue.” Unfortunately, as this was her first birth, she doesn’t have anything to compare it to and one cannot help but wonder whether she would have been upbeat and perky anyway! Following on from this, just a couple of months ago The Sun interviewed four women (including one vegetarian!) who had eaten their placentas and are passionate advocates of the practice. One lady has since become an “encapsulation” specialist and according to her, “the procedure is safe and natural and you’re just putting back into your body something that was already in there and helped create your beautiful baby.”
The thing is, I’m just not convinced that it’s really necessary to indulge in a spot of placentophagy. The argument that it happens in other cultures doesn’t really hold any weight. Apart from the dodgy dried stuff used in traditional Chinese medicine, which is not evidence-based and includes other such gems as bear bile, cows’ gallstones and of course rhinoceros horn, there is little evidence that any other cultures do this. In a BBC article entitled “Why eat the placenta?” an obstetrician argues that while it makes sense for animals to consume theirs for nutrition and to hide the evidence from predators, there is no medical benefit for humans to do so as we are already so “well-nourished”.
I also can’t be the only one who feels a bit queasy about the idea, even if it can be ingested in pill form. There is something a bit cannibalistic about placentophagy, especially when others such as the father of the baby eat it too! I much prefer the traditional Hawaiian way – now permitted by law – where the placenta is buried alongside a tree in a secret religious ceremony. There’s something more romantic about that than the Western custom of simply incinerating it. Alas, we only have a deck so that ain’t going to happen either.
Even if it’s not eaten, the placenta can be used in other ways. Apparently, Madonna and Eva Longoria are fans of face cream made out of sheep placenta. Simon Cowell has placenta facials! And even Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian supposedly like to use placenta cream on their hands and decolletage. Now you too can revitalise your skin with ovine placenta at the UK-based Jill Zander clinic.