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Eating the Placenta – The Newest Postpartum Trend

Would you eat your own placenta? Although the practice of a woman eating her placenta (called “placentophagy”) isn’t a new phenomenon, it is growing in popularity due to the influence of Hollywood celebrities.

In March 2012, Mad Men star, January Jones admitted that she ate her own placenta. Before that, in 2006, Tom Cruise told GQ Magazine that he planned to eat his baby’s (Suri) placenta. Whether or not the actor actually went through with his plan is unknown, but the celebrity influence has played a role in making placentophagy more well-known.

Nearly all land mammals eat their placenta after birth. The exact reason for this isn’t completely understood, but researchers believe that eating the placenta gives animals a biological advantage. Placentas are full of nutrition, since it was the organ that provided your baby with his or her nutritional supply during pregnancy. In the wild, when a mother eats her placenta, it replenishes all the nutrients that she lost during the birthing process. Also, it’s possible that mammals eat their placenta to hide any evidence of their young’s birth from predators.

Eating the Placenta – A Cultural Practice

In different cultures around the globe, generations of people have seen the placenta as still containing all the life-containing benefits after the woman gives birth. Since the placenta was the organ that provided the developing baby with all the nutrients and oxygen that he or she needed during pregnancy, many cultures believe in its nutritional value postpartum. For example, the Chinese culture believes that the placenta has strong healing properties.

Other cultures don’t see the placenta merely as a nutritional object, but something even more special. For instance, in the Malay culture, they highly regard the placenta for supporting the baby during pregnancy. So, after the woman gives birth, the baby’s placenta is given a proper Muslim burial. In essence, they are thanking this organ for its special life-supporting role.

There are some cultures that view the placenta as something special. In these cultures, parents may have a burial ceremony for the baby’s placenta to honor the new life, and they will bury the placenta in a special spot and later plant a tree in that spot.

Some mothers prefer to make placenta art – in which they use the placenta blood – as a keepsake of their pregnancy and baby’s birth.

The Trend of Placenta Eating in the United States

New York Magazine reports that the placentophagy (mom eating her baby’s placenta) movement in the United States started in the 1970s, when women living in the communes would make a “placenta stew” and share it with others living in their community.

Although eating the placenta is not a commonplace practice in the United States, it is becoming more popular, especially among women who prefer midwives over medical doctors and those who choose to have a home delivery.

There are a number of methods of eating placenta. Some placenta recipes recommend that you use placenta like you would with any other organ meat. For example, you could slice it up and pan fry it. You could also use a meat grinder, and use the placenta as the meat in spaghetti or lasagna.

Some mothers use the raw placenta to make placenta smoothies – you blend the raw placenta with fresh fruit (like bananas and berries) and enough water for a drinkable consistency.
More commonly, however, mothers who are interested in eating their placenta go for “placenta encapsulation” or placenta pills.

What is Placenta Encapsulation?

During placenta encapsulation, a midwife or a doula who specializes in doing this (called a “placenta encapsulation specialist”), takes the placenta and dehydrates it. The dried placenta is then ground into placenta powder, which is placed into empty vegetable capsules that the mother can take orally, similar to taking a daily vitamin.

Placenta Encapsulation is the most popular method of placenta eating in the United States. It’s less messy than the other methods of placentophagy; it’s clean and you don’t have to actually chew or actually “eat” it.

Sometimes, during placenta encapsulation, the placenta is steamed with lemon, ginger, and other natural ingredients. Then, it is dehydrated using a food dehydrator for 8 to 10 hours. (Likewise, you can also use a oven to dry the placenta.)

Placenta Eating Benefits

If the concept of eating your baby’s placenta grosses you out, or sounds cannibalistic, it’s probably not right for you, despite the potential benefits.

Supporters of placentophagy argue that placenta eating may help:

  • Prevent postpartum depression or the “baby blues.”
  • Improves energy levels after the baby is born.
  • Boost your breast milk supply.
  • Decreases the risk of postpartum bleeding and postpartum hemorrhage.
  • Lowers the risk of iron deficiency anemia in the post-birth period.
  • The uterus shrink back to regular size.

Researchers, medical experts, and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) are wary of women eating their own placentas. For one, there is no hard evidence that suggests that there are strong benefits associated with it. Researchers do admit, however, that placenta pills and placentophagy has potential medical use, since the placenta is rich in nutrients and a good source of hormones. The hormonal component of placentophagy may be the reason that women may reap emotional perks – like decreased postpartum depression – from the practice.

Obstetricians and gynecologists do warn women from thinking that placenta pills are a “cure-all” to help you get through the postpartum blues. If you believe that you’re experiencing postpartum depression, you should seek medical help.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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