Placenta eating--placentophagy--is becoming more and more popular around the world. It's been a common practice in the animal kingdom, however, for a long time already. Scientists have a few theories though, as to why animals consume their placenta. Could it be that animals eat the placenta to prevent a predator attack? Maybe, in part. But even in situations where there is no predator threat--such as a treetop birth or a top-of-the-food-chain mom--animals still eat their placenta after birthing. Perhaps animal moms simply want to clean up. But that can't be entirely why they eat the placenta either, since animals routinely leave behind blood and other fluids after birthing. Beyond housekeeping and attack prevention, eating the placenta may provide animals with a nice health boost.
Few studies exist to prove the benefit of placenta consumption; however, it's thought that it could help the mother in many ways.
Rich in nutrients, the placenta could offer much-needed nutrients postpartum. Placenta Wise (https://www.placentawise.com) states on its site that the placenta may contain:
1. "ESTROGEN, PROGESTERONE, TESTOSTERONE:
Contributes to mammary gland development in preparation for lactation; stabilizes postpartum mood; regulates post-birth uterine cramping.
Promotes lactation; increases milk supply; enhances the mothering instinct.
Decreases pain and increases bonding in mother and infant; counteracts the production of stress hormones such as Cortisol; greatly reduces postpartum bleeding; enhances the breastfeeding let-down reflex.
4. "PLACENTAL OPIOID-ENHANCING FACTOR (POEF):
Stimulates the production of your body’s natural opioids, including endorphins; reduces pain; increases well-being.
5. "THYROID STIMULATING HORMONE:
Regulates the thyroid gland; boosts energy.
6. "CORTICOTROPIN RELEASING HORMONE (CRH):
Regulation of CRH helps prevent depression.
Reduces inflammation and swelling; promotes healing.
Triggers the protective defenses of the immune system to fight infection.
Regulates contractions in the uterus after birth; helps uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size.
Replenishes maternal iron stores to combat anemia. Increases energy; decreases fatigue and depression.
Oxygen-carrying molecule which provides a boost in energy.
12. "UROKINASE INHIBITING FACTOR AND FACTOR XIII:
stops bleeding and enhances wound healing.
13. "IMMUNOGLOBULIN G (IgG):
Antibody molecules which support the immune system.
14. "HUMAN PLACENTAL LACTOGEN (hPL):
This hormone has lactogenic and growth-promoting properties; promotes mammary gland growth in preparation for lactation in the mother. It also regulates maternal glucose, protein, and fat levels."
If you're so far intrigued, you may then be thinking, "well, how would I go about eating my placenta?! That sounds disgusting!" That's where placenta encapsulation comes in. This is the process in which the placenta is made more palatable for consumption: it's steamed, dehydrated, ground into a powder and placed into capsules for easy swallowing. The capsules may also be frozen for later consumption if you so decide.
Since many hospitals follow strict guidelines about placenta handling, mothers who want to consume their placentas may either deliver at home or make sure their birthing center will allow the practice. Make preserving your placenta part of your birth by planning ahead.
The placenta is essentially organ meat so it's important that it's handled as a perishable food if you plan to consume it. If you don't know how to handle the placenta yourself, your doula or midwife may be able to talk you through it. Or, you can likely find companies in your city that will process it for you. Search online for "placenta encapsulation" and your ZIP code or look for a service near you at http://findplacentaencapsulation.com. More questions? Check out the Placenta Wise site - they have a great FAQ page! Bon appetit!