The Placenta Debate

There’s no evidence to support eating your placenta and it could be dangerous.

Lots of people benefit a lot from eating their placentas. It’s safe so it doesn’t hurt to try.

If you frequent pregnancy or birthy parts of the internet, you’ve probably heard both of these arguments. And with the recent release of a case study claiming consuming encapsulated placenta led to a case of Group B Strep in an infant, the topic has gotten even more controversial. So who’s right? Probably both of them!

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The Science

There isn’t any evidence that shows placenta consumption is beneficial. Mostly this is because there hasn’t been much quality research done on the topic. One study has shown that placenta pills contain hormones but did not explore whether these have any effect. Another small study showed taking placenta pills has no more effect on iron or hemoglobin levels than a placebo.

As far as evidence on risk, it’s important to understand that the article that came out is a case study– only about one incident. More research would be needed to confirm what caused the Group B Strep in the infant. It is expected that the person who prepared the placenta pills did not follow food safety standards. Much more research would be needed to confirm whether or not this is a risk on a broader scale. So there isn’t really evidence of harms from placenta consumption either.

So to summarize– the science doesn’t really show any benefits, true. But it could. The science also doesn’t really show any risks. But it could. We just don’t know yet.

The Trickier Science

So what about all the women who claim eating their placenta changed their postpartum experience? The internet is full of stories of people who experienced postpartum depression or anxiety with their first baby but then consumed their placenta with their subsequent babies, and had no problems with postpartum mood disorders.

They could have been better prepared for the changes a new baby would bring. Expecting the lack of sleep could have made it easier to handle. Maybe they had a better support system in places.

A likely explanation, in addition to these possibilites, is that the encapsulated placenta acted as a placebo.

Placebos have gotten a bad name, but they can actually be wonderful. If something is helpful– actually, truly helpful, it doesn’t much matter if it helps because of a physiological mechanism or a psychological one. And amazingly, placebos have been shown to work even if the person taking them knows they are a placebo. Our brains are pretty awesome. So we can believe the women who swear placenta ecapsulation was a game changer for them.

To Eat or Not to Eat?

If you are concerned about experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, you can consider consuming your placenta. You may find it very helpful.

Consider the potential risks more carefully if you test positive for Group B Strep.

And if you do decide to encapsulate your placenta, make sure you have it done by someone trained properly in food safety protocol. Ask them about it. Check their credentials.

And be sure to have other resources at hand as well. Have the number for Postpartum Support International in your phone and make sure you can talk to your partner and care provider.

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