'The placenta is miraculous,' but should you eat it? 5 things to know

More moms, celebrity and otherwise, seem to be eating their placentas. What does the organ do and is it safe to consume? The experts explain all.
by Meghan Holohan / / Source: TODAY

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When Khloe Kardashian was pregnant with daughter, True, she revealed on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" she’d follow the lead of sister Kim and eat her placenta. While this sounds stomach-churning to some, it seems that more moms, celebrity or otherwise, are consuming their placentas.

But why? What does the placenta do and can noshing on it boost health?

“The placenta is miraculous,” Dr. Christine Greves, an OB-GYN at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health in Florida, told TODAY. “It is an organ that helps exchange certain things between a mother and fetus — hormones, antibodies, nutrients and even waste products.”

Because it is packed with hormones and nutrients, such as iron, people think ingesting it protects them against postpartum depression. While there’s little evidence this works, experts do know that understanding the placenta helps them understand more about mom and baby.

“It can tell us a lot about the pregnancy,” Dr. Stefan Kostadinov, director of perinatal pathology at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, told TODAY. “Because the placenta sustains the pregnancy for nine months, it reflects any abnormality that would happen.”

The experts shared facts about the placenta, including whether to eat it — or not.

1. Both mom and baby make the placenta

The placenta doesn’t develop until an egg becomes fertilized and implants into the uterine lining where the fetus’ cells blend with the mom’s cells.

“The placenta is very fascinating,” Kostadinov said. “It is composed of both maternal and fetal tissues.”

This organ, which grows only when needed, helps the baby eat, breathe and grow.

“The placenta becomes the main lifeline for fetuses,” he added.

2. Size matters

As the baby grows, the placenta grows. A healthy placenta weighs about a pound. A placenta that’s too big can mean that mom has poorly controlled diabetes. A placenta that’s too small means mom has uncontrolled high blood pressure.

“Placenta weight can tell us a lot about maternal conditions,” Kostadinov said.

3. Location matters

The placenta can be in front of or behind the baby. When it rests in front, it’s harder for moms to feel their babies moving and kicking. While that can be disappointing, placenta position isn’t a problem unless it lies below the baby. When that happens, a condition known as placenta previa, the placenta delivers first, causing distress for baby and excessive bleeding for mom.

“In placenta previa, the placenta has implanted too low,” Kostadinov explained. “The baby cannot be delivered through the vagina. It has to be delivered through C-section.”

In placenta accreta, the placenta attaches so deeply in the uterine wall that it cannot detach, which also causes excessive bleeding. This can happen if a mom has scars, fibroids or delivers a preterm baby. In these cases, doctors need to manually remove it or perform a dilation and curettage procedure, what’s commonly known as a D and C.

“We give the placenta 30 minutes to come out,” explained Greves. “A lot of times, it does come out naturally … that is when we have to get it.”

4. It can be eaten, even though doctors don’t recommend it

Numerous celebrities — including January Jones, the Kardashians, Gaby Hoffmann, Holly Madison, Mayim Bialik, Samantha Bee, Alicia Silverstone, Padma Lakshmi and Tamera Mowry — said they ate their placenta and this trend has spread to other women. Most of the time, they send their placentas to a company that freeze-dries them, grinds them up and puts them into capsules.

Why would anyone eat a part of their body?

“Some people believe that preparing the placenta and eating in pill form can help prevent postpartum depression,” Greves said. "We don’t have any good conclusive evidence that states that."

The placenta does have hormones in it, but there’s no evidence that eating freeze-dried placenta is the best way to deliver those hormones. What’s more, there is proof eating the placenta can spread infection.

“It could be harmful,” Greves said. “A newborn developed group B strep because the mom had ingested contaminated (placenta) capsules.”

The placenta sometimes carries infections, such as group B streptococcus, syphilis, E. coli, toxoplasma gondii or Zika virus.

“Infectious diseases of the placenta can be dangerous for the mother and the baby,” Kostadinov said. “There is no scientific evidence of any benefit to eating your placenta.”

5. Placenta doesn't help with younger skin

In the 1990s, skin care products sometimes contained placenta claiming to help the skin maintain a healthy, youthful look. While the placenta does miraculous things for a baby, it does little to improve the health of the skin.

“The premise of using placental tissue is that it is rich in protein, growth factors, hormones, enzymes, which help a fetus grow, so it's clearly good for skin,” Dr. Adam Friedman, professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine told TODAY, via email. “There is no good evidence supporting this.”

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