January Jones and Alicia Silverstone did it. So did Mayim Bialik, Holly Madison, Tamera, Tia Mowry, and perhaps a Kardashian or two. But just because a handful of celebrities do something, does that mean it’s a good idea?
What these celebrity moms did is ingest the placentas their bodies expelled in the moments after childbirth. Dehydrating and encapsulating the placenta is a trendy way to consume this organ but some women eat it raw, slice it up and put it in smoothies, cook it up as a stew, eat it themselves or serve it up to family and friends celebrating the birth of the newest family member. Silverstone even published a few recipes she developed for this life-giving organ said to resemble liver.
Why would somebody do this? These famous human mammal moms say they do it to minimize uterine contractions, minimize blood loss, minimize stretch marks, enhance mother-child bonding, replenish iron stores, prevent postpartum depression, invigorate the exhausted new mom, enhance lactation, ease pain, or some combination of all the above.
But does it really work? Very few scientific studies have explored any benefits or risks. We’re left with the “perceived benefits,” according to Dr. Crystal Clark, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. In her psychiatric practice, Clark specializes in reproduction-related mood disorders at the university’s Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders. She has reason to question if placentophagy is all that.
She and her research team found only ten current studies on the subject; some of them involved human study subjects, some involved other mammalian moms. The studies included placentas that were raw, cooked, and encapsulated. None of the studies revealed the expected benefits. They found no measurable benefits at all.
Doing something that produces no results is one thing but the Northwestern research team is concerned about the potential risks involved with placenta eating, especially when nursing mothers consume it. They found no studies that explore the risks of the practice.
The placenta is a filtering organ, absorbing toxins and pollutants to protect the health of the developing fetus. These contaminants may remain in the placenta, actually causing unknown harm to the mother who eats it and the baby she breastfeeds.
Another concern is that there is no standard of handling or processing in place to make eating the placenta safe. There are no standards of preparation, storage, or dosage so no way to ensure safety.
The Northwestern researchers urge all women considering placentophagy to discuss the idea with their physician before delivery day. Celebrity moms are often trend-setting, glamorous role models but they are not physicians. Every woman must make this decision for herself and base it on the details of her own health, culture, and lifestyle and with the awareness that benefits have not been proven and risks remain unknown.
- Clark, CT, et al. "Placentophagy: therapeutic miracle or myth?" Archives of Women's Mental Health (2015). PubMed / US National Library of Medicine. Web. 16 June 2015.
- Paul, Maria. "Eating the Placenta: Trendy But No Proven Health Benefits and Unknown Risks." Northwestern University. Northwestern University, 4 June 2015. Web. 16 June 2015.