Placenta: To eat or not to eat?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – More and more women are turning to the afterbirth as a way to beat the baby blues, boost milk production, and increase energy after having a baby.

“A lot of postpartum depression, at least for me, when I don’t eat, I don’t sleep well, and I’m getting frustrated and stuff, that made it worse. That made those first couple of weeks bad,” said Kenmore mom of two, Jess Herman.

She decided to try eating placenta to help with postpartum depression after the birth of her son, Lucas.

“I didn’t bond with him for the first couple of weeks,” she told News 4.

“I didn’t love him, I just didn’t feel that instant bond until he was maybe 8-weeks-old.”

Herman had her placenta put into little capsules, which she keeps in her freezer.

“I think it’s becoming increasingly common,” said Medical Director of the Birthing Center of Buffalo and OBG-YN, Dr. Katharine Morrison.

“Especially women who seek natural birth understand that every woman is growing two amazing things inside her: a human being, and the placenta, which enables her to grow that human being,” she said.

Nearly all of her patients at the Birthing Center want to take their placenta home.

“It has gone from a request that you might have seen once a year to a much more common request,” Dr. Morrison said.

Doulas, or birth coaches, generally prepare the placenta. It costs around $200 to have encapsulated.

“I think that it has grown in popularity starting with doulas growing in popularity,” said Gina Varney. She’s a birth and postpartum doula at The Village in Allentown, where Herman had her placenta prepared.

The whole process can take up to two days. First, the placenta is rinsed, dried, and cut. Then it’s put into a dehydrator, ground into a powder and encapsulated.

Women aren’t stopping at pills; some are having their placenta put in tinctures, smoothies or made into hand creams. Others choose to bury it, and grow a tree on top.

Varney told News 4 the possibilities don’t end there.

“Placenta truffles. They take the powder and put it in with chocolate and eat it that way, and that gives them that additional little jolt from the chocolate,” she said.

There’s not a lot scientific data around this. The trend kicked off recently, after celebrities started doing it and swearing by the results.

“To test it, particularly in humans, you have to find women who are willing to eat this stuff, but don’t particularly believe it’s going to work,” said Professor Emeritus at UB, Mark Kristal.

He’s studied mammals eating their afterbirth for years. He said most of them do, but humans? Not so much.

“There’s no evidence that humans, human cultures, ever practiced this as a routine behavior. And in fact, there are taboos against it,” he said.

The biggest one of course, is cannibalism.

While historically, dining off the afterbirth hasn’t been practiced, it’s not the first time we’ve experimented.

“There are periods where eating afterbirth is a fad,” Kristal told News 4.

“We saw this in the early 70s in the so-called hippie communes, back-to-nature movements.”

Varney doesn’t claim the benefits of eating placenta are scientifically proven, and she doesn’t make promises to clients.

“We’re really not guaranteeing any kind of an outcome for women in encapsulating their placentas, but what we hear from the women that do it, is so positive that it’s something we’re offering for them as an option to consider that could potentially help,” she said.

And business is booming, Varney told News 4.

“When I went back to work with my son, I can tell people were kind of like ewww when I told them about it,” said Herman.

She understands the “ick” factor, but said her experience was positive while eating her own placenta, she doesn’t care.

The million dollar question of course, is how is it?

“A little woody, earthy,” Herman said.

While the practice is controversial, Dr. Morrison doesn’t see any medical reasons why women who want to eat it, should stop.

“They either say yes I got a benefit or no I  didn’t get any benefit, but nobody has said that it harmed them,” Dr. Morrison said.

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