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Placenta, Milk Supply, & Postpartum Depression: What Can We Say?

Placentophagia, which is consuming your own placenta, has become a fairly common practice.  Some women eat it raw or cooked. Others ingest it in capsule form.

With scarce evidence to condone or condemn, what should you do? To help you make your own decision, I have outlined seven important points. Read on to learn the info you need to know about your placenta.

The evidence for health benefits in the postpartum period is slim—or none

I am unaware of any academically-sound, published study confirming any benefit from placental consumption for postpartum mothers. In fact, even the ancient traditions of Chinese medicine tout only non-postpartum benefits, including treatment of infertility, arthritis, anemia, and other ailments.

Many parents seem to think that placental consumption will prevent or cure postpartum depression. While I understand there is some research being done on this topic, as of this writing, there is not a scrap of evidence to substantiate that.

The practice poses some risks for the postpartum mother

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has reviewed the risks of placentophagy. (Listen to my podcast of “Born to be Breastfed” with nurse, lactation and herbalist Donna Walls for more about this.)

NICHD documented the potential for infection—it has happened, and the risk must be acknowledged.

“Other mammals do it” doesn’t mean “humans should

Here’s a common phrase in placentophagy circles: All mammals eat their placentas. But consider:  

First, that’s not entirely true.

Not all mammals have placentas, so those that don’t clearly don’t eat them. Some mammals like pinnipedia, cetacea, and camels have placentas, but do not eat them.

Second, placentas are not needed for survival.

Animals eat their placentas raw, immediately after birth. Some experts believe they do it to get rid of the smell of blood, which would attract predators to their young. By comparison, humans don’t have that worry.

Third, the timing is different.

Humans don’t typically consume the placenta immediately after birth. Rather, they take it home, allowing the blood and debris to accumulate. Eventually, they may eat it raw, such as in a smoothie. They may also cook or steam it. Another method is to sterilize or encapsulate it. They may consume it over a period of days or weeks. Eating the placenta is different for a human than an animal.

There are no standards for preparation of the placenta

Although the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating medications, it has so far declined to regulate placentas. Rather, rules about processing placentas fall to state authorities—many of which have no standards, or ones that are not well-known.

Without industry or government standards, parents have no reassurance about the safety of the placenta (raw or processed) they consume.

The placenta may affect the milk supply

I am unaware of any scientific evidence linking placental consumption to either increases or decreases in mothers’ milk supply. However, Donna Walls says she has noticed that many new mothers who come to her for help with a low milk supply have consumed their own placentas previously. It has become so common that Donna now routinely asks mothers with low milk supply whether they have consumed their own placentas.

Donna’s experience suggests to me that maybe we should view low milk supply as a possible risk. I’m not saying it’s “for sure”; I’m just saying it’s “possible.” Is it worth the risk?

You may regret it

Journalist Nancy Redd movingly wrote that she was disappointed in herself “for letting fear and insecurity cause me to make a potentially dangerous decision without doing due diligence on its safety.”

We cannot feel good about ourselves for taking an action without doing due diligence. You can end up asking yourself if you just caved in to what some call a modern-day snake oil remedy.

If you’re going to … do it safely

Acknowledging that there is no industry standard for processing placenta, it is hard to know whether a placenta has been handled safely. For example, it’s possible that perhaps being heated to a high enough temperature would have killed the group B Strep that sickened a baby in one high-profile case.

For parents who have already decided to consume the placenta, let’s encourage them to ask many questions to ensure good food handling practices.

What would you tell mothers about consuming their own placenta?

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2 Comments

  1. Miles

    Ingesting your placenta in anyway = a DECREASE in milk production up to 50%. This means you may have a very fussy baby esp. when they are feeding because the baby can’t get enough milk which means much less sleep for you. I’m an RN but this is also our personal experience. We wanted to make placenta art which I thought was awesome and fun! We also wanted to try to ingest the placenta because being in the medical field I know postpartum depression is very real… and I heard it had great benefits for energy also. When I asked someone I trusted very much who has been working with mom and babies for over 50 years said be careful eating the placenta because it has been known to decrease milk production. Listening to her warning we waited to try placenta smoothies (mixed with berries) until after the 4 day of the baby being born. This is when all her milk came in. Her breast were full and leaking like crazy. The next day my wife then began to take 2 inch pieces of placenta and putting it in a smoothie every day. It has no taste so she enjoyed it like a normal smoothie. We noticed that she had a more stable energy and stable emotions than the 4 days after delivery. But after the 5th day of drinking the smoothies our baby was so fussy we realized after examining her breast that her milk production went down big time and the baby clearly wasn’t getting enough milk to be satisfied. This meant less sleep for us. I would make the recommendation that a woman could keep her placenta in the freezer or pills in case of an energy or emotional emergency. And take a small amount if she really felt like she needed it. I can NOT recommend taking it continually. It makes a mother feel inadequate when she doesn’t feel like she can produce enough milk for a baby which ends up being counterproductive on the depression issues for the main reason for taking it in the first place. Use the placenta if you really need it otherwise don’t. It’s not worth the frustration inhibiting your milk production and dealing with the problems it causes. If you have already taken placenta in anyway and having problems now stop taking it and do frequent feedings, lots of skin to skin, and grazing which is letting the babies mouth play with your nipples even when they are not feeding. Your milk production will boost in 24 hours… and you will have a very significant increase within the next 48 to 72 hours. Please don’t get angry with me sharing my experience. Everyone’s body is different biologically so this is not a one size fits all topic. Some people love peanut butter and for others it can kill them. Lets respect and learn from each others experiences. Miles RN

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Thanks for your comment, Miles. It is definitely a personal decision. More information about the pros and cons is available on an episode of my podcast. Above all, I recommend parents speak to their healthcare provider to make the best decision for their family.

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