By Lela Davidson
If you’re pregnant there are a million different things to consider: names for your baby, a color scheme for the nursery, whether or not you will breastfeed exclusively, and increasingly—how to prepare the placenta. Yes, my gestating friends, many of your contemporaries are adding “consume placenta” to the list of your maternal duties. Mad Men star January Jones swears by a hearty serving of placenta. She told theTelegraph, “We’re the only mammals who don’t ingest our own placentas."
Sacramento pediatrician Dr. Melissa Arca says that while there are no reliable studies that prove the maternal benefits of eating one's placenta, the anecdotal evidence is abundant. “Mothers who believe in this practice report benefits such as a decrease in postpartum depression symptoms, an increase in breast milk production, and an increase in energy.”
Setting aside the general "eww"-factor for a moment, I have some questions. Such as, how does one go about preparing a placenta? Grilled and then dressed in a delicate béarnaise sauce? Thinly sliced and added to your favorite stir-fry recipe? Ground placenta burgers with cheese made from breast milk? Are you supposed to grace others with your bounty of placenta? If so, how many does an average placenta feed? And is it appropriate to serve appetizer portions or full entrees? Short of a book on placental etiquette, I’m not sure the lay-mother is qualified to host such a party.
A cottage industry has evolved to facilitate the easy consumption of the human placenta, eliminating all the icky cannibal stuff. Placentas are freeze-dried, turned into powder, and put into capsule form so they can be taken with your morning multi-vitamin. That’s what January Jones did. Jones told People magazine that she uses her placenta vitamins to fight exhaustion. I applaud her use of natural sources of energy, especially in Hollywood where she no doubt has access to many less wholesome substances to boost her mood and metabolism. However, the veracity of the placenta industry claims remains largely unproven.
Jennifer Rokeby-Mayeux, a birth and post-partum doula from Lincoln, Nebraska, says “eat” is the wrong word. “I would use the word ingest,” she said. Eat, ingest. Tomato, tomahto. Another doula/certified childbirth education and placenta encapsulator, Carrie Kenner, is working on a pilot study to prove effects of the placenta on PPD. She says women who have suffered PPD once will try anything to prevent or alleviate symptoms a second time around. The other class of women turning to placenta encapsulation are "the folks who want to do the latest and greatest and best when it comes to their babies,” Kenner says.
Although she does not know of anyone who has cooked a placenta, Kenner had one client who put a piece of her placenta into a smoothie. “She added to a fruit smoothie and drank it just after her baby was born.” Aside from the vitamins, minerals, and hormones in the placenta, some women are ingesting it for other reasons. Kenner says Eastern medicine has been using powdered placenta for thousands of years for it’s energetic effect—the idea that consuming the thing that has nurtured the baby in uteri continues those positive effects once the baby is born.
Whatever benefits may be derived from the placenta, consider for a moment the logistics. Dr. Arca says, “The process is not regulated and this could carry some risk as women entrust others to store, process, and encapsulate their placenta for them.”
As if I needed another reason to be skeptical.
But what do I know? Although eating—sorry, ingesting—the placenta is way outside my comfort range, it’s hard to deny that women are getting real value from it. Perhaps the new studies will reveal the benefits are the result of a placebo effect. That would be wonderful, actually, because I know a lot of women who would rather swallow a placebo than a placenta any day.
Would you, could you, eat your placenta? If so, would you choose to take your nutritional booster in a smoothie or in pill form?
Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA (Jupiter Press, imprint of Wyatt-MacKenzie, July 2011). Her writing is featured regularly in family and parenting magazines throughout the United States and Canada. She blogs about marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 at After the Bubbly.