To consume or not to consume?
Midwife practitioner, Sofie Jacobs of Urban Hatch shares about the pros and cons as well as her recommendations on the trend of ingesting placenta pills postpartum. Please consult with your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of consuming placenta pills.
Whether or not you should eat your placenta is the type of topic that tends to divide everyone from mamas to medics to midwives. Ultimately the decision lies with each mama, but as this trend continues to grow in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world, could there be something to it?
The placenta is undeniably significant. It’s the organ that transfers all the nutrients, blood and oxygen to your baby when they’re in the womb. Also known as ‘the afterbirth’, the placenta is expelled from the uterus once you’ve given birth, and more often than not, ends up as medical waste. It’s not the prettiest thing to look at, but it does an incredible job of growing your baby, giving them everything they need to develop, as well as removing toxins and waste products from their blood.
‘Yum’ is definitely not the first thing you think of when you see a placenta, but the idea of putting your placenta into pill format to take as a supplement in the days following your labour is increasingly popular. Placenta pills have gotten a lot of attention in recent years (thanks to celebrities, January Jones and Kim Kardashian) and yet, there is no medical consensus on whether it’s a good idea or not.
The supposed advantages of consuming your placenta include increased iron levels, hormonal balance and a boosted mood. Women who take placenta pills are often applauding the supposed benefits (with anecdotal evidence) of improved energy, better mood or an increased milk supply. But the downside is that there could be low levels of toxins in your placenta – after all the placenta’s job is to give your baby what it needs and remove chemicals or minerals or other waste products from your baby’s blood. Ingesting these may not be the best idea. Then there’s the hygiene concerns of storing and preparing your placenta, not to mention the fact that the placenta could pick up bacteria when delivered.
The scientific community remains unconvinced too. A study in 2015 by the Northwestern University in America reviewed ten studies dedicated to discovering whether women eating their placentas could help prevent them from suffering with postnatal depression, and interestingly found no evidence to support this theory.
Unsurprisingly, most women interested in this practice prefer pill format to preparing their placenta with a side of fries. The good news is encapsulating your placenta is a pretty straight-forward process and can be a service offered by certain birth specialists, doulas and midwives. There’s even a Placenta Remedies Network, which lists approved practitioners who convert your placenta into pill format. The most popular method to do this is to steam cook, then dehydrate the placenta, then grind it down to allow it to be put into easily digestible capsules.
Professionally speaking, as a midwife with almost twenty years of experience, I have to be honest about the doubts that I have about the efficacy and the risks involved. I’ve seen the rising trend for placentophagy (its formal name) first hand but have not seen enough concrete evidence of the supposed benefits to be able to recommend this practice wholeheartedly.
Often advocates put a lot of focus on the fact that mammals eat their placentas, but I would argue that this is to protect their babies from predators rather than for nutritional benefit. Of course, every pregnant woman wants the best start to motherhood, and placenta pill advocates make claims that sound incredibly tempting – from speeding your body’s recovery postpartum, to increasing your milk supply and even helping to lower your chances of postnatal depression – surely all very welcome benefits when you have you a newborn to look after. But until there has been a conclusive study on the risks and benefits, I’ll remain cautious about prescribing placenta pills.