NEWS

Is It Safe To Eat Your Own Placenta?

The placenta is an organ that develops in your uterus during pregnancy.

27/10/2017 06:38 SAST | Updated 27/10/2017 10:44 SAST
This is a human placenta in a pot and steamer.
AFP/Getty Images

newConsuming placenta is nothing new. Dried placenta has been used in some forms of Chinese medicine for centuries, but in more recent times (thanks to celebrity trends) more women are seeking out ways to eat or ingest their own placentas following childbirth.

What is a placenta?

The placenta is an organ that develops in your uterus during pregnancy. This structure provides oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby and removes waste products from your baby's blood -- Mayo Clinic

Why? Some say human women should eat their own placentas because other mammals do.

The hole in that argument is that the reason some animals do so in the wild is to hide the smell from prey so they aren't hunted soon after birth and their babies aren't eaten. Obviously humans don't have the same dilemma.

The other reason people are keen to consume it is for the purported health benefits. Groups which advocate the practice say it can raise energy levels and help with increasing the quality of breast milk as well as ward of postpartum depression and insomnia.

The placenta is most often turned into capsules by an external company who collect it from the hospital for you, but can also be consumed by either eating it raw or cooking it. Experts are on the fence about whether or not there are any real benefits.

AFP/Getty Images
Placenta pills have become more and more popular in recent years.

"There is actually no evidence at all from any proper scientific trial that it actually has any benefits," Winthrop Research Professor Jeffrey Keelan from the School of Women's and Infants' Health told HuffPost Australia.

"Having said that, there are plenty of anecdotal stories about women who have had bad experiences in past pregnancies, but with their next pregnancy decided to take capsules and have said, as a result, they felt almost immediately better. In saying that, it could all be a placebo effect. We don't know for sure."

So while there's no guarantee that you'll feel any better if you do decide to eat your placenta, you may as well give it a go, right?

Not so fast.

The bigger question which needs to be answered is, is it safe?

The short answer is no. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention earlier this year released a report that detailed the case of an American woman who ingested her placenta by way of dried powder in capsules. Shortly after taking the pills her baby developed signs of respiratory distress and was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit.

As it turned out the baby had developed a group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacterial infection. Testing of placenta capsules also found the same bacteria. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention concluded that placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided.

Infection risk aside, you'd need to consume a huge amount of the hormones contained in the pills to see or feel of the benefits.

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This is a human placenta being washed before it is steamed.

"It would take a significant dosage of estrogens and progesterones to have [an] effect, and it's been studied that the levels of hormones in placenta pills are greatly reduced. By the time it goes through the process there wasn't much [hormone] left."

"Theoretically you could be getting some of these hormones, but whether that's enough taken orally -- and they are not very well absorbed orally anyway -- but if it's enough to take your blood levels back to where it was before you were pregnant, and to give you relief from the sudden withdrawal of steroids that occurs after childbirth, I very much doubt," Keelan said.

Instead, consider focusing on your diet after giving birth. New mums require more calories while breastfeeding which is a great opportunity to get more and varied nutrients into the system.

"Particularly when you're breastfeeding, your energy levels will increase quite considerably because of the extra energy that is required," Chloe McLeod, accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian, told HuffPost Australia.

"For lactation, it's around an extra 2,000 kilojoules [480 calories] of food per day, which is quite a lot. It's often why people who are breastfeeding tend to lose a lot of the baby weight, as it ends up being a lot of food to consume for a lot of mums."

As for what you should be eating, focus on upping your intake of protein, zinc, iodine, selenium and Omega 3s as well as B12 and vitamin C. It's a much safer way to ensure a healthy postpartum period for you and new start for your bub.