Mommy-to-be Khloe Kardashian says she’s going to do it—maybe because both Kim and Kourtney did, too—and Alicia Silverstone, January Jones, and Katherine Heigl have also all eaten their placenta. But this isn’t just some buzzy Hollywood trend: Placenta eating (aka placentophagy) has been around for centuries, a common practice in Chinese medicine. Though with more and more celebs jumping on the bandwagon, eating your own placenta is now more talked about than ever. Here, experts weigh in on the debatable benefits.
There’s no shortage of commonly touted benefits, including better milk production, preventing postpartum depression, pain reduction, and improved mother-baby bonding (credit the fact that it’s rich in nutrients and hormones). It’s worth noting, however, that these benefits are largely anecdotal, without much hard data to back up the admittedly very enticing pros. “The belief is that it contains nutritional value, or properties that assist with postpartum healing, since it contains a small amount of oxytocin,” explains Judith Levy, MD, an OBGYN at Montefiore Medical Center in NY. “But these benefits have not been proven on humans and can be obtained other ways.”
The Doctors’ Take
“New mothers should enjoy nutrient-rich and healthy foods, but can leave their placentas off the menu,” says Zev Williams, MD, PhD, Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility and Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center. “The post-partum period is a time of increased nutrient demand and a good intake of proteins, fats, and calories is very important. For animals in the wild, it’s often difficult to get these nutrients, so eating the placenta may be beneficial. But with so many food options readily available to us, it isn’t necessary for a woman to rely on the placenta for nutrients.”
Speaking of nutrients, Williams recently compiled a complete nutritional profile of the placenta—and found that it didn’t contain anything particularly “magical” that couldn’t be achieved from other foods. (Though, ICYW, it has 234 calories, four grams of fat, and 48 grams of protein.)
Aside from the debatable benefits, eating your placenta may actually pose a health risk. “There’s a risk that that it can acquire infectious diseases during labor and delivery that could then be transmitted,” cautions Williams. And according to a recent review in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the CDC advises against taking placenta pills, due to pathogens potentially not being eradicated during the encapsulation process.
So, if you still want to consider eating your own placenta, the form matters. For those who do want to eat their afterbirth, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of options available. Essentially, placenta can be treated as any other piece of meat, and eaten raw, cooked, dehydrated, blended in smoothies, or turned into a powder and taken in a pill. While Levy doesn’t believe in eating placenta, “If a patient wants to regardless, she should keep in mind that it can contain bacteria, and should only be ingested after cooking or dehydrating.”
The Bottom Line
As with anything pregnancy-motherhood-baby related, one size most definitely does not fit all. Like everything else during your pregnancy and delivery journey, it’s ultimately a personal decision. Still, this is one decision worth researching and discussing with your doctor—instead of just trying to keep up with the Kardashians.