Placentophagy: On Eating the "Tree of Life"

The "Tree of Life" that nourished Little Owl for nine months

Animals, including most primates, do it. Women in Hollywood do it. Traditional Chinese medicine does it.

Hopefully none of those arguments convince you.

Especially not the second one.

What is it?

Placentophagy (the acting of eating one's own placenta after birth) is growing in popularity. From encapsulated pills, to lasagna, to smoothies and meatloaf, it is becoming more common for women in the U.S. to ingest their afterbirth. Most women find the idea repulsive and wouldn't even consider it. Among those willing to give it a try there are varying responses. Some regret this postpartum consumption. Others, claim it has miraculous benefits-- including helping ward of postpartum depression, increases in energy, earlier stimulation of milk production,. and even higher pain tolerance. Due to the lack of interest or funding, there is not a whole lot of scientific evidence out there that supports either the pro-placentophagy or anti-placentophagy cause.

Prior to becoming the "afterbirth" the placenta (often referred to as the "tree of life") has already done a lot of work. Growing, nourishing and sustaining a being for nine months is no small task (just ask any women who has a baby). As a working organ the placenta contains (among many other good things) high levels of prostaglandin and oxytocin. Prostaglandin helps clean out the uterus post birth, shrinking it back to its normal size. Oxytocin, "the love hormone" does everything from easing stress, to promoting bonding, to stimulating milk letdown in mammals (the same hormone is released when you make a baby, have a baby, and take care of a baby--kind of neat, huh?).

However, just because the placenta contains these hormones and just because these hormones do these things does not mean that eating your placenta does these things. Get it? Correlation does not necessarily equal causation.

Should you do it?

Now, the real question is, should you do it? I did. I know other pregnant women who did. I know women who wouldn't dream of it, women who are planning on doing it and women who tried but had (they think) negative reactions. Despite lack of convincing evidence that it would do anything, I decided to give it a try.

Here is are my thoughts on it: If you were healthy prior to becoming pregnant, had a healthy pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby, your placenta has already done a lot of work. The question is, whether or not it is capable of doing more work. If some women experience negative reactions to eating it while others swear by it, what is going on? Well, I am not a scientist and I am not sure. But, I do know that when I took my placenta pills post-pregnancy I felt better. If I hadn't I wouldn't have kept taking them. If I had felt worse I would have stopped. 

Was it a placebo effect? Maybe. Would I do it again? Yes. Why? Because even if it was a placebo effect it worked. I took it in encapsulated form (thanks to my dear friend, Diana, for preparing it!). 

The placenta encapsulated
After Little Owl was born I took it whenever I began to feel depressed, anxious or weepy. Within a half-hour of consumption those negative thoughts and feelings would dissipate. So, yes, I am adding my anecdote to the pro-placentophagy group. But, no, I do not swear by it. In fact, it would have been interesting to know if I would have felt differently if they had just been placebo pills! Sometimes (though definitely not always) it seems like all it  takes to get over a down day is the courage and determination to say "ok, I'm going to do (x) and it's going to get better". If you do (x) and it gets better, was it because of (x) or because of the determination to get better? You tell me. I'm really not sure. (The whole correlation/causation thing again.)

How to do it

If you are interested there are a lot of recipes online for how to prepare a placenta for consumption. Keep in mind it is very important to process it immediately after giving birth (aka momma, you can't do it for yourself you need to have someone else). Some women drink it in smoothies, have it in soup, lasagne or spaghetti. Give me a little break. I'm not that crunchy. It was my first time. Maybe I could have done a smoothie, but compared to a lot of the options options out there pills sounded great

Now, I do have to add a few disclaimers. If you weren't healthy prior to pregnancy, had complications with your pregnancy or with your birth, I do not recommend even thinking of trying it. If you do decide to take it and have (even seeming) negative reactions, stop. What would be the point of continuing? 

But, if you do decide to give it a go, let me know what you think. After all, if the baby blues can be avoided maybe it's worth a try. 

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  1. I considered it with my last baby, but didn't do it. I did have my best, most energy filled pregnancy with my fourth, and I think it's mostly due to eating a WAP inspired diet and low grains. It was also my best postpartum, not as emotional like I had been with my others.. I tried my best to observe a 40 period of rest and I know that helped, as well as super nutrition. I did take grassfed liver pills too. Just not placenta. :>

    1. That's impressive to take a 40 period of rest with the fourth! Way to go! That must have taken a lot of determination because I am sure you could have found at least a couple things to do besides rest. :)

      Way to take care of yourself, though. I observed a three-week period of rest myself but it was my first! I really think it made a HUGE difference.

  2. i wish i could does one do that exactly with older children? i only have two others and 6 days was a stretch...
    and so far...the placenta smoothie did seem to regulate me faster and i did get an energy jump when i drank it on day one and two. I'm taking the pills...can't say for sure but they do seem to be a mood booster.

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    2. Not sure, Summer! You look great, though. Glad placentophagy seems to be working. If I had two kids and then a baby I would have tried the smoothie, too!

    3. It's not like I laid around for 40 days snuggling my baby, but I tried to be as intentional as possible about not doing more than I had to. I have older kids who were at the time, 7, 5, and 2. I have a very supportive a loving extended family, plus friends and church that helped provide meals for the first few weeks. I also made a point of mostly staying home during the first 40 days. We're Eastern Orthodox Christians, and it's a practice in our church to bless a new mama with a 40 day period of rest. It's not a law, but a gift. :> We don't go back to church during the 40 days, and it's a very sweet time of bonding and being encouraged to rest as much as we can. This was the first time I really took it seriously and it was a gift indeed! Every woman's situation is different, of course. Many cultures throughout history have a set period of time, often around 40 days, that is built in to nurture not just a new baby, but the mama as well. In our culture we've sadly lost that. Aviva Jill Romm has a great book called about the postpartum period and she talks a lot about this. I don't remember the name of the book, but all of her books are great.

    4. I didn't picture you just lying around :). I think that's absolutely wonderful. I didn't realize that the orthodox community encouraged that. Applause to them for supporting that and applause to you for taking it! I remember reading about the Jewish traditions on birthing in the Old Testament and it makes so much sense. I wish it was something our culture as a whole gave mommas more.


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