Should Mothers Consume the Placenta After Birth?

It’s been years since I blogged about a health topic and I honestly thought those days were over, but… here I am. I originally planned to make this a Facebook post just to share with my friends, but I had too many links and too much to say, so I figured I’d make it a blog post instead.

After giving birth 3 times and about to go through the process once more in a few months, the topic of placenta consumption (the technical term is placentophagia) has caught my attention once again. As background, I’m going to quickly share my experience in this matter.

Following the birth of my first child, I was bleeding heavily with no end in sight. My midwife was about to prepare a shot of pitocin to stop the bleeding. A week or so prior I had heard that eating a piece of the placenta could stop bleeding. We asked to try this first before getting the pitocin, since we were towards the deep end of being super crunchy back then. Truthfully, I don’t think my husband or I realized just how bad I was bleeding and that this was very serious. If we had, we probably would have gone straight for the proved method of a pitocin shot. Either way, as soon as I swallowed a piece of the placenta, my bleeding stopped, and I didn’t need the pitocin.

Without some sort of intervention to stop the bleeding, I know that I would have died. Therefore, I’ve always claimed that eating a piece of placenta saved my life. Sure, pitocin could have done the same thing, but I didn’t take pitocin, I took placenta. I’ve always been in awe of how the placenta, which sustained my child’s life within me, ended up saving my own. I have a deep sense of respect and reverence for the amazing power of the placenta. 

Because of my experience, I have since made it a rule during my births to consume a couple pieces of placenta immediately following its delivery, just in case it may prevent hemorrhaging. I bled far less during my last two births, but it’s impossible to know if consuming placenta contributed to less bleeding. There is, however, one thing I am sure of, which is that during my first birth, consuming placenta stopped my post-partum hemorrhaging immediately. That’s good enough reason for me to continue eating a couple pieces following birth.

In the years since that dramatic experience, I’ve learned that consuming the entire placenta is actually a thing that many women do. A common method is to encapsulate it (sometimes dehydrating first) and consume it over the following weeks after birth. Some women consume it shortly after birth in a smoothie of some kind. Most people question why on earth civilized humans would do something so disgusting (I’ll admit from experience: it IS disgusting!), but there are many people who believe that all the hormones contained in the placenta are beneficial to the post-partum mother and can help with a host of issues such as post-partum depression, energy, milk supply, and more. After having it stop my bleeding, I’ve often wondered if consuming the entire placenta may provide other benefits for me as well. 

And so, the other day, one of my favorite Instagram accounts, badassmotherbirther, did a post on placenta consumption featuring a video of a mother consuming raw placenta immediately following birth. The post highlighted the believed benefits of placenta consumption but also stated there is little actual research on the entire topic. (View post here)

Although it’s been touted that placenta consumption is an ancient practice of many cultures, there appears to be little evidence to support this. One commenter on the Instagram post said she had lived in remote places in Africa and Asia where birth has been untouched by modern medicine and continues to be experienced using traditional methods, and NONE of those women consumed their placentas.

The most interesting thing to read among the comments was a conversation about how consuming the placenta for weeks after the birth may cause problems with low milk supply, the idea being that the hormones in the placenta inhibit the hormones needed to produce milk. This stemmed from an article written last year by Sarah Hollister, a lactation consultant. In her personal experience as a lactation consultant, low milk supply issues among otherwise healthy mothers were frequently related to taking placenta pills. It’s a great article that brings up a lot of points to consider, and I highly recommend reading her words: https://www.happygoatproductions.com/blog/2017/9/6/a-lactation-consultants-perspective-on-placenta-encapsulation

I went ahead and asked my doctor if he knew anything about any of this. So he did some research and wrote a whole post on Quora, citing the studies. Read here: https://www.quora.com/Are-there-really-benefits-to-eating-your-own-placenta-after-giving-birth/answer/Christopher-Maloney

So here’s the deal: we have no idea if placenta consumption is beneficial for mothers or not. There’s simply not enough research on the topic. We don’t even have evidence that our ancestors did this. For the most part it seems like a harmless (yet gross) practice, but there are at least two possible negative side-effects. According to the experience of Sarah Hollister, the above-mentioned lactation consultant, it may inhibit milk supply, so if you’re planning to breastfeed, you should be aware of this. Also, a documented risk is infection. While this doesn’t appear to be common, it has happened, and so it’s important to be aware of the risks.

When looking at this logically, it doesn’t really make sense to consume the placenta, which is full of pregnancy hormones, when you’re no longer pregnant. Your body needs to go through the necessary hormonal shift that it does post-partum, especially in regards to producing breastmilk. If a mother wants to consume the placenta, I think the best way to do it would be to consume it immediately after birth rather than for weeks afterwards so as not to create an artificial pregnancy experience (for lack of better words) that could cause unnatural hormonal disruptions. On the other hand, why would you consume something your body instinctively just expelled? It seems a bit counter-intuitive. Sure, other mammals do it, but they give birth under completely different factors. A big reason they immediately eat the placenta is to eliminate the scent of blood so as not to attract predators.

While I’ve read no research to prove that consuming raw placenta prevents/stops hemorrhaging, I’ve heard it’s an old practice that midwives have used for a long time, and my own experience has proved it effective. I really don’t know why it was effective. My best (and completely uneducated) guess is because it contains the pregnancy hormones that help prevent miscarriage (bleeding). Being that the placenta is so potent, it only took one bite to be effective. I understand why nobody wants to use mothers as test subjects, but I wish this could be researched and tested somehow because it truly would be a big deal. In cases where pitocin is unavailable, this method could be used as a possible life-saving intervention.

And so, my final thoughts (for now) on this whole topic:

Although I’ve considered eating the entire placenta because I had heard of its supposed benefits, I’ve never really felt compelled to do so. After seriously looking into the topic, I am not convinced of its benefits whatsoever, and am concerned it may actually cause the very hormonal problems its touted to fix. 

For me, I will continue to consume a couple pieces of placenta after birth as my own personal precaution against hemorrhage, but not the whole thing (sorry, but slurping down a placenta smoothie after pushing a baby AND THAT SAME PLACENTA out of my vagina is just not appetizing). Post-partum hemorrhage is a life-threatening emergency, and it seems an appropriate situation to utilize something as hormonally potent as placenta to stop it, or to prevent it in cases where there is a previous history of hemorrhage. In my situation, I do not see consuming a couple pieces of placenta to be unreasonable. But being that I do not experience many negative post-partum issues, I have little reason to try and mess with my hormones during that time by consuming the entire placenta. After this next birth, I plan to bury the placenta and plant a tree over it, which is a common practice. It’s something I’ve always been interested in but was never in a position to do before.

Like all areas of health and birth, it’s important to be aware of the possible risks and benefits of any practice, and to also tune into your innate intuition about what you need. Just because placenta consumption has become super trendy among natural-minded folks doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. Do your own research and listen to your body. 

Above all, do what you need to do to feel good and to bond with your baby. That’s really what it’s all about.

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