The idea of eating your own placenta is not new. From stews to smoothies, many mums have chomped their way through their ‘after birth’ in order to re-absorb the rich nutrients stored inside.
The placenta, which links you to your growing foetus throughout pregnancy, ensures a continuous supply of oxygen, nutrients and vitamins to your baby. As a result, the placenta has been shown to house valuable stores of iron (allowing the body to absorb oxygen), vitamin B6 (helping the body produce antibodies), vitamin E (to help heal damaged skin), stem cells (which can transform into almost any type of body tissue) and oxytocin (which facilitates breastfeeding, bonding and love) among many other health benefits.
But, while a placenta smoothie might not sound too palatable, mums are now turning to placenta encapsulation services, which dehydrate and grind your placenta into regular looking pills, in order to get their nutrient hit.
Who's doing it?
The concept was started by American Lynnea Shrief, owner of the Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network.
Kim Kardashian recently spoke out about her decision to recycle her placenta. "I’m really not this holistic person or someone who would have ever considered eating my placenta," she says.
"I heard so many stories when I was pregnant with North of moms who never ate their placenta with their first baby and then had postpartum depression, but then when they took the pills with their second baby, they did not suffer from depression! I really didn’t want the baby blues and thought I can’t go wrong with taking a pill made of my own hormones made by me, for me."
Coleen Rooney has also tweeted a picture of her placenta pills following the birth of her third child, Kit. Although when a tweet suggested that Coleen had been inspired by Kim K, she immediately tweeted back, "Who told you that?? Didn't even know she had done it!!"
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Mad Men actress January Jones told Glamour magazine that she felt the tablets helped her through the difficult first few months of Xander’s life, although she says the backlash has been a bit surprising:
“I should never have told anyone about that, it’s so f**king stupid so many people cared. But it’s not gross or witchcrafty. Nor am I putting it in a shake or eating it raw. It’s a very civilized thing that can help women with depression or fatigue. I was never depressed or sad or down after the baby was born, so I’d highly suggest it to any pregnant woman.”
So are there health benefits?
Fans of placenta-eating suggest that small-scale studies show it is beneficial for new mums – increasing energy levels, helping with breastfeeding and helping avoid post-natal depression.
But the expert medical community is not convinced. "There are no proven physical benefits when a mother decides to consume her placenta, regardless of whether she eats it raw, in a smoothie or in capsule form," says Roger Marwood, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
"Yes, it may be full of protein, but there is no evidence to suggest that it has any nutritional benefits, therefore it is unlikely to ward off postnatal depression, help you sleep, increase breast milk production or give you more energy. However, the psychological effects are much greater. If you think something is doing you good, more often or not it will."
And in 2015, researchers at Northwestern University in the US concluded there was no evidence that consuming your placenta could help women with post-natal depression and post-delivery pain, after reviewing 10 different studies.
It’s often cited that nearly all land mammals have been known to consume their placenta post-birth (known as placentophagia) and ancient Chinese and Egyptian medicine (where the placenta even has its own hieroglyph) hails it for it’s healing properties, where it is often dried and added with mixed herbs to tackle impotence and lactation conditions.
But, as New York magazine details, Mark Kristal – America’s leading authority on placentophagia – concludes that due to the instinct among mammals to consume it, “It must offer a fundamental biological advantage” but what that advantage is “is still a mystery… in fact, a double mystery. We are not sure either of the immediate causes nor are we sure of the consequence of the behaviour.” There are schools of thought that suggest mammals actually consume it as a precautionary measure, so as not to attract predators.
Nevertheless, the practice has taken hold and is popular in America and increasingly so in the UK. New York magazine details rallies outside of hospitals after women were told they couldn’t take theirs home due to hospital policy. “It became a women’s rights issue: my placenta, my choice,” NY magazine continues.
Are there any risks?
While placenta smoothies have raised health and safety concerns over fears of bacterial contamination, the main worry about placenta pills is that the process is unregulated. Therefore anyone can offer this service, which can cost around £150-£200, and indeed kits are available online.
Some women have also reported feeling more weepy, down, jittery and tense - but of course these can be natural feelings after giving birth.
How is a placenta pill made?
“There are two ways of making placenta pills, according to Lynnea, using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which involves steaming the placenta before dehydration or the Raw Dried method, which simply involves the dehydration of raw placenta. Both methods involve grinding and encapsulating after complete dehydration.” The pills (you’ll get roughly 120) are usually clear and are similar in appearance to a regular vitamin pill.
Lynnea adds, “Placenta pills are made with no added ingredients, although if using TCM it is steamed with lemon, ginger and green chilli.”
Is it for you?
According to thefeministbreeder.com the Raw method delivers the highest potency of the pills because it is not cooked before it’s dried, but that they expire after one year of freezer storage. TCM won’t expire but are less potent. There is no clear instruction on how often placenta pills should be taken, so you would need to discuss this with your chosen company and a healthcare professional.
In order to have your own placenta pills made, you would need to discuss placenta collection with both your hospital and your chosen encapsulation service. It’s important to make sure they are reputable and have evidence of passing tests. Lynnea herself was the first to offer encapsulation services in the UK and offer IPEN training courses.
In addition, you may want to discuss how they carry out their service, as some will want to do it in your home, which can be quite smelly and difficult when you have a new baby.
You took to Facebook to tell us your thoughts on whether you’d take placenta pills:
- “Yup, had hideous PND with my first two and I am going to look into it with this one. I am defo NOT a placenta pate kinda gal, though!” says Claire Marie Mummy Anderson.
- “The benefits are many, but I’m a vegetarian, the thought of eating my own placenta makes me feel uncomfortably sick, sorry!” says Marcia Pedro.
- “Done it and don’t regret it. I think I recovered much quicker after a hideously long labour (3 days). I’m no hippy let me assure you, but wholeheartedly support this. I initially doubted being able to stomach the raw smoothie but feeling like I did post-birth soon put paid to those thoughts. Quite frankly I thought, what’s the worst that could happen?’ says Emma-Jane Tippett.
- “I’m sure it’s totally natural and stuff, like all animals do it etc, but no way, so gross,” says Ann Burke.
- “Didn’t first time round – had a hard labour, hard time breastfeeding (failed) and a tough few months after. I’d try anything I can do to stop this from repeating next time – but I’m pretty sure hubby would object/ be grossed out!” says Elle Williams.
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