Ever heard of placentophagy? The practice of eating the placenta after childbirth is common in the mammal world, but is not exactly a conversation opener for most pregnant women.
Sure, you may have heard about the British chef who cooked and fried a new mother’s placenta with shallots and garlic, then flambéed, puréed and served to 20 relatives and friends as a pâté on focaccia bread. (Yes, this was the late ′90s. Everyone ate focaccia).
But apart from placenta lasagne recipes on hippy websites, the idea of human ingestion of placenta has been a Western taboo – until the Traditional Chinese Medicine method of encapsulating meat and tissue took hold amongst doulas (birth assistants) and alternative medicine practitioners.
Now, even Hollywood actresses such as Mad Men’s January Jones are popping placenta pills, which she claims helped her endure a quick return to work following the birth of her son Xander.
"I have a great doula who makes sure I'm eating well, with vitamins and teas and with placenta capsulation," she told People.com.
Anecdotal evidence for using placenta as a PND preventative is really impressive, as are reports about it helping to increase breast milk production
"Your placenta gets dehydrated and made into vitamins. It's something I was very hesitant about, but we're only the only mammals who don't ingest out own placentas. It's not witch-crafty or anything! I suggest it to all mums."
The idea behind eating the placenta is that it contains high levels of the fatty acid prostaglandin, which stimulates the shrinking of the uterus, and small amounts of oxytocin, which may improve mood and help milk production. Proponents of placentophagy also claim it contains essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin B6, amino acids and essential fats.
And by replenishing the hormones generated during pregnancy, it’s thought that it may work as a cure for postnatal depression.
Human placenta has also been an ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines, used to treat wasting diseases, infertility, impotence and other conditions.
Pregnant Sydney woman Gemma Davies plans to have her placenta encapsulated by her doula. The placenta is first gently steamed over water containing traditional Chinese herbs, and is then sliced and dehydrated, ground and desiccated, ready to be encased in a vegetable-based capsule.
“I’m having it done primarily in an effort to prevent postnatal depression,” says Davies.
“I have a history of depression through my adult life and feel that I need to take extra precautions once my first baby is born. The anecdotal evidence for using placenta as a PND preventative is really impressive, as are reports from new mums about it helping to increase breast milk production and build energy.”
Several Sydney doulas and naturopaths offer placenta encapsulation, charging around $250. The whole process takes about 24 hours and ideally begins within the first 24-48 hours after the birth.
So far, there have been no scientific studies on placenta ingestion by humans. Preliminary research in the 1980s found that ingestion of placenta can enhance opioid-mediated analgesia (pain relief) in pregnant rats.
Nevertheless, women who have popped ‘placenta pills’ insist on their efficacy.
“It definitely made a difference in energy levels,” said one Essential Baby member. "It's really no big deal."
What do you think of placenta capsulation - have you tried it, or would you do it in the future? Have your say and vote in the poll on the Essential Baby forum.