Placentophagy: Eating the Placenta

Mammals have three major subdivisions i.e. monotremes, marsupials, and placentals. Humans belong in the last category of mammals. Other animals in this classification bracket include herbivores, carnivores, and whales among others. Placentals have one distinct feature i.e. they give birth to live young. Doing so means supplying growing fetuses with food and oxygen. It also means taking waste products away from the same fetuses.

The placenta is a temporary organ in placental mammals that facilitates feeding the fetus and taking away its placenta After giving birth, it plays no function in the mother’s or the child’s body. Many placentals eat it with the exception of humans, camels, seals, whales, and a few other animals in this category.

Eating the placenta

Slowly but steadily, eating the placenta is actually becoming common among humans. Advocates of this practice cite the fact that most mammals eat the placenta. They say that doing so is a sign that it has some kind of benefit to offer the mother. Other proponents of this practice say that the eating of the placenta, known as placentophagy, started as far back as 1593. During this time, a Chinese medical paper claimed that eating the placenta treats infertility, liver issues, and kidney problems.

Currently, supporters of placentophagy claim this practice improves skin elasticity and lactation. They also claim it enhances maternal bonding while reducing postpartum depression. Celebrities who ate their placentas after giving birth include January Jones, Kim Kardashian, Alicia Silverstone, Gaby Hoffman, Tia Mowry, and Holly Madison among many others.

A study on the benefits of placentophagy

The NICHD decided to fund a study to analyze the alleged benefits of placentophagy. Dr. Crystal Clark, an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, led the study. The research team analyzed 10 peer-reviewed studies related to placentophagy. Four of these studies focused on human placentophagy specifically. The researchers discovered that most of the women who resorted to this practice were trying to prevent postpartum depression.

The remaining studies i.e. 6 developed models to simulate placentophagy in humans. In one particular case, the researchers found that mice had a better experience after giving birth if they ate the placenta. However, the researchers noted that the mice ate the entire placenta and they ate it raw, of course, unlike those women who tried placentophagy. They also observed this better experience was absent if the mice ate the placenta 24 hours after giving birth. It was also absent if the temperature of the placenta was above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The conclusion of the study

The research concluded that there is no data to support the assertion that eating the placenta after giving birth is beneficial to the mother. The team also explained that mammals would normally eat the placenta after giving birth to mask their scent so that predators do not come after them or their young.

However, the researchers also point out that there are no evidence that placentophagy is a risky practice.