There is a growing trend for new mothers to encapsulate and consume their placenta postpartum, called placentophagy. I did NOT consume placenta postpartum for either Madi or George.
Why is placentophagy becoming a new trend?
Mammals consume their placenta after their young are born. The reason for land mammals to ingest their placentas is primarily to clean the surrounding environment to reduce predator attacks.
Humans eating placentas after birth is a relatively new phenomena; the practice was nearly unheard of until 50 years ago. It was at that time that placentophagy was purported to reduce incidence of “baby blues” and postpartum depression, and aid in energy and lactation levels.
Since then, there is now a growing trend for placental encapsulation for human consumption with the main reason to prevent postpartum depression.
What are the potential benefits of placentophagy?
There are three main reasons that women may consider eating their placentas:
- Prevent postpartum depression and improve maternal mood/energy
- Improve postpartum anemia and hemoglobin levels
- Improve lactation
Unfortunately, the literature completed to date has not shown any benefit in these domains.
Preventing postpartum depression
It is thought that placentophagy will replenish hormones and B vitamins lost during childbirth.
The cause of postpartum depressionis multifactorial. Replenishing estrogen that is lost in the postpartum period has not been shown to treat postpartum depression. The evidence for B vitamins in treatment of postpartum depression is also mixed
The available literature that supports placentophagy for preventing postpartum depression is anecdotal. It is user reported and with that carries bias.
Improving anemia and hemoglobin
There has been one randomized trial analyzing iron levels in women who consumed their placentas versus beef.
There was no difference between the two groups. Meaning that placentophagy does not provide an added benefit over a regular diet with iron.
The evidence for enhanced breast milk production is also poor quality. Some of literature is self-reported accounts of increased milk supply and not standardized measurements. Other literature is extremely dated and inconclusive.
What are the potential harms of placentophagy?
There is a case report where an infant was admitted to hospital with group B streptococcus sepsis. The source of the bacteria was traced to the mother’s placenta capsules. The mother was group B streptococcus negative.
Inadequate heating and preparation of placenta capsules may be insufficient enough to eradicate bacterial and viral infections from being transmitted to the newborn.
Another potential concern is that the placenta can house a build up of toxic substances including heavy metals.
There is no scientificevidence of any benefit of consuming the placenta in the postpartum period. There is potential evidence for risk of harm.
Mothers wishing to partake in placentophagy are encouraged to discuss this with their physician.
This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.
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Coyle CW, Hulse KE, Wisner KL, et al. Placentophagy: therapeutic miracle or myth? Arch Womens Ment Health. 2015;18(5):673.
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Elwood C, Money D, van Schalkwyk J, et al. No.378-Placentophagy. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada (JOGC). 2019;41(5):679.