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Thinking About Eating Your Placenta?

A few things to consider before chowing down.

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“Everyone else is doing it.” It’s reasoning you likely used as leverage at some point during your preteen days, back when you were gunning for permission to see that R-rated movie—because if all your friends’ parents were cool with it, yours should be too, right?

Whether we're aware of it or not, we want to keep up with trends set by our peers and even, if not more so, our favorite celebrities. Take, for example, cooking your placenta and eating it with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Making your placenta into a postpartum meal has become a trend with celebrity moms such as Padma Lakshmi and the Kardashians over the past few years—and it’s a fad that Northwell Health OB/GYN Dr. Stephanie McNally says her patients are asking her about.

But are there any proven benefits to eating your placenta? Why did new moms start doing it? Before you start Googling placenta dinner recipes (yes, that's a thing), here are a few FAQs to help guide your decision-making process.

What exactly is the placenta?

In case you missed that day in health class, the placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy. "The placenta is a filtration system and a source of nutrients and oxygen for the fetus," Dr. McNally explains. "The placenta, via the umbilical cord, provides everything the fetus needs to grow and thrive.”

For those who haven't experienced childbirth, the placenta usually gets delivered within 30 minutes after the baby arrives or is removed by the doctor during a C-section.

Why would someone want to eat that?

Plug "benefits of eating your placenta" into any search engine, and you'll likely see “full of nutrients” and “decreases mood disorder” listed as benefits. But as Dr. McNally explains, there is no definitive research to back up these types of claims. "There are no randomized controlled studies looking at the benefits of eating the placenta," she explains, which are considered the gold standard for research in the medical world. "Any data that's out there doesn't have scientific proof to back it up."

Another popular motivation for eating your placenta—most mammals do it … so why don't we? While there's plenty we can learn from the way animals do things, it's important to keep in mind that animal placenta and uteri differ greatly from our own human anatomy. Survival tactics are also thought to be part of why animals eat their placenta—they don’t want the smell of blood to attract predators. Luckily, your baby probably doesn't have any natural predators in the hospital you're delivering at for you to be worried about.

To hell with common sense and professional medical advice—I still want to eat my placenta

Since there's no concrete information to refute or support the potential pros of eating your placenta, there also aren't any parameters in place for how to preserve or prepare it.

"Bacteria and yeast live in a balance in the vagina," Dr. McNally explains, "but we don't know what kind of bacteria is in the placenta when it comes out. If you had a type of illness in pregnancy like preeclampsia or diabetes, or an infection in labor, your placenta may be infected and unhealthy—but we have no regulation to know if the placenta has been deemed healthy before you eat it."

To take a recent example, a new mother in Oregon passed a blood infection on to her newborn while breastfeeding after taking capsules made from her placenta by a company that processes and encapsulates them.

There are better ways to address postpartum mood

If the big draw for eating your placenta stems from concerns about your postpartum mood, Dr. McNally suggests speaking with your doctor to come up with a plan of action. "Postpartum blues are very common after giving birth—but if it persists past a two-week period, you should reach out to your healthcare provider."

Bottom line? Talk with your OB/GYN before jumping on the trend. It's your body and decision, but your doc can help you make sense of the information available and help you make a fully informed decision.

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Published January 8th, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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