Eating Your Placenta After Childbirth May Not Be Such A Good Idea

For those who are out of the loop, you may have been surprised by this headline. This act, known as placentophagy, is typically only seen in non-human mammals where the mother immediately eats her placenta after giving birth.

But in recent years, some human mothers are also opting to consume their placenta after childbirth. The United States, in particular, has seen a growing interest, especially after public figures like Kim Kardashian West revealed having tried it herself.

"The popularity has spiked in the last few years," Dr. Crystal Clark of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said back in 2015. "Our sense is that people aren't making this decision based on science or talking with physicians. Some women are making this based on media reports, blogs, and websites."

There are many ways to eat or drink the placenta. For maximum convenience, it can be converted into pill form where it is dried, powdered, and encapsulated. But some women even cook their placenta or turn it into a smoothie.

Now, what is the supposed benefit in consumption? Advocates claim it could protect mothers from postpartum depression, increase energy levels and milk production, reduce pain, and more.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence till date to back up these claims. When looking at the research, positive results have only emerged in animal studies. This one, for example, found an improved pain threshold in female rats that ate their placenta. 

But what works for rats does not necessarily translate into human benefits. In short, most experts believe that placenta consumption has no significant impact on human beings. Women who do report benefits are likely experiencing a placebo effect, says Mark Kristal, a behavioral neuroscientist at the State University of New York.

While the placenta does have nutrients, they may be destroyed when exposed to heating or even room temperature. And in some cases, the placenta could actually end up doing harm if contaminated. 

"There is always concern for infection, and there are concerns about how the placenta is handled and stored post-birth," notes Kecia Gaither, an OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine physician.

Take this case from 2016 for instance — a woman in Oregon decided to consume her placenta in a capsule form during the weeks following the completion of her pregnancy. But within a short period, her baby went on to develop a deadly infection caused by bacteria traced back to the placenta pills.

"Many times, nothing may happen, but there is a risk that an infection is going to occur," says Amesh A. Adalja, senior associate at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security.

But even if the likelihood is low, he believes that parents should be made aware of the deadly risk they could place on their child for something that is not backed by science.