I support the consumption of the placenta after birth. By ‘support’ I don’t mean that everyone ought to do it, what I mean is that I think there is value for the woman who chooses to eat or encapsulate and swallow her placenta after the birth of her baby. I have recommended the encapsulation of the placenta to many women (clients as well as friends) and so far only one person has taken me up on it. I don’t judge the women who declined and I totally understand that feelings of ‘icky-ness’ may play a part in that decision and I think that’s totally fine. Like so many things surrounding birth, we often have theories and ideas and some evidence, but little in the way of hard fact to back things up. With issues of that sort, the pregnant woman’s gut reaction (no pun intended) is as valid a reason to do or not do something as any other.
The theory behind eating the placenta (or having it encapsulated by a professional and then taking the capsules as a supplement in the weeks following birth) is that it contains protein, minerals (especially iron), vitamins and hormones that would otherwise be wasted if the placenta were not consumed. All other mammals eat their placenta, why then shouldn’t we? The potential benefits of consuming the placenta are many: increased milk production, improved mood (i.e. an antidote for baby blues), preventing excessive bleeding, improving quality of sleep and overall nutritional benefit. You can even save some of the capsules in your freezer for later in life, when you reach menopause, and take them as a natural hormone supplement. There are no downsides, aside from the ‘ick’ factor. To my mind, even if the value is only that of a placebo effect, who cares? If you feel like it works for you and it doesn’t cost much (nothing to eat it, less than $200 to pay someone to encapsulate it for you), why not give it a shot? If you pay for the encapsulation you’ll also get a bottle of tincture made from the placenta that can ease your baby’s teething pain and soothe sore nipples. I myself would choose encapsulation over eating the placenta, for two reasons. One, I don’t eat mammal meat and I feel that the texture and taste of it would bother me, after having been a pescatarian for over a decade. Two, I feel that the gradual use of the placenta, in small amounts via capsules, would likely make the most of the benefits of the placenta, allowing it to nourish the body over a period of weeks rather than all in one day. I have no science to back this up. These are my personal feelings about what is right for me.
Some people might argue that it is wrong to eat a ‘part’ of one’s own body; to those people I would suggest reading the following post: http://networkedblogs.com/pmuif. In it, a student of Catholic theology examines the Christian perspective on placentophagia. She finds that, “placentophagia is not cannibalism because it does not involve killing, nor the consumption of flesh which belongs to a deceased person. It does not present an affront to the dignity of the human person. Nor is placentophagia morally evil as long as the intentions and circumstances are either good or morally indifferent.”
I will continue to recommend placental encapsulation to each of my clients. Most of them will probably decline, but for the few who decide, “why not?” and go for it, I will feel that I have done right by them in suggesting an option that could bring them myriad benefits in the postpartum period.
Updated: Finally some research! Looks like the first study looking into consuming the placenta is finding benefits.