Pregnancy + Birth

Placentophagia: Eating Your Placenta

Photo Source: Monet Nicole
Updated February 27, 2022

“Placentophagia is not such an unusual behavior for most mammilian mothers in the perinatal period. Animals of all the mammilian groups […] most all will injest the placentas of their newborn young. Animals are not aware of the biochemical benefits, yet instinctually they find the placenta extremely palatable immediately after giving birth,” says midwife & author, Robin Lim (120).

There are many wise women, doulas, mothers, and midwives, like Lim, who believe in the benefits of placentophagy. However, there is also a lack of widely accepted scientific evidence proving these benefits. This being said, it is important to note that very little scientific research on placentophagy in humans exists.

In Placentophagy: Therapeutic Miracle or Myth?, several scientists evaluate the published data on placentophagy. In their review they state that even though there is a good bit of information available about the benefits of placentophagy, there is a lack of scientific evidence proving its advantages for humans.

They conclude, “it is not possible to draw any conclusions relevant to human health.” But, they do say that based on the data, further studies are needed to evaluate the potential benefits placentophagy.

In their review, they discuss the findings of Mark B. Kristal and his colleagues, which I will refer to more later. They do say that Kristal et al’s study “displays the most scientific and methodological rigor to explain a possible adaptive significance of placentophagy in non-human mammals.” However, they go on to discuss various reasons they believe these findings do not necessarily prove that there benefits of placentophagy.

One major issue they find with the study is that it uses rodent, not human subjects. They detail some other more specific scientific reasons too, which you can read about here if it interests you.

Anyway, I think it’s important to note all of this before I delve into why one might eat their own placenta. I also want to acknowledge that while there is a lack of scientific “proof” that placentophagy has measurable health benefits, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that placenta consumption can do some pretty amazing things for the for the post-partum mother. I also tend to believe that while science is certainly a valuable way of finding out more about our world, it is only one of our many tools of discovery.

With all of that said, I will now discuss the potential perks of placentophagy and the various ways to prepare a placenta.

Lim describes several benefits of mammilian placenta consumption in her book, Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra, including,

Reduction of post-partum hemmorhage

One of the most commonly reported benefits of placenta consumption is that it helps to prevent/stop excessive bleeding after birth. Lim says, “in my midwifery practice, there have been many times when [anti-hemorrhagic medicines] did not stop hemorrhage. In each case, when none of the medications worked, the hemorrhaging stopped immediately within minutes of the mother ingesting a small bit of her own placenta” (65).

Replenishment of mother’s nutrients

Another popular reason mothers eat their placenta after birth is the belief that it has exceptional nutritional benefits that aid in restoring the woman’s body. “A mother’s placenta is exactly formulated to give her optimal benefits. No other animal meat will help her as much as her own placenta. It contains iron and all the minerals that high quality meat can offer” says Lim (119).

She believes that eating the placenta replaces important nutrients lost through bleeding during the birth and provides protein to help strengthen the body after pregnancy (Lim 121)

Immunological Advantages

Another interesting benefit of placenta consumption is its potential for moderating the immune response of the mother, which is affected by pregnancy.

In Placentophagia: A Biobehavorial Enigma, Kristal et al. discuss the idea that consuming placenta could help prevent a mother forming the antibodies that cause Rh sensitization.

If you aren’t familiar with Rh blood incompatibility, I’ll quote one of my favorite pregnancy books, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, to help explain a little bit further.

First the basics. Simpkin, Whalley, and Keppler explain, “a characteristic of blood types is the presence or absence of an antigen called the ‘Rh’ factor. If your blood type includes a plus sign (such as O+ or A+), the Rh factor is present. More than 85% of the population is Rh positive. If your blood type includes a minus sign (such as O- or A-), the Rh factor is absent. About 15% of Caucasians, 3-5% of people of African decent, and a few people of Asian descent are Rh negative.”

And how is this relevant during pregnancy? Simpkin, Whalley, and Keppler say, “although you and your baby don’t share blood systems, if you and your baby are Rh incompatible, his blood may enter your bloodstream when you give birth or if you experience a miscarriage or have invasive tests. As a result you may become Rh sensitized and start producing antibodies that may cause mild to severe anemia in your baby. Because your body produces antibodies slowly, the first Rh pregnancy is usually unaffected. Without treatment, however, a problem can arise in a future pregnancy if that baby is also Rh positive” (135).

Kristal et al. say that if the placenta is consumed, it can help prevent the mother from forming these antibodies and thus, having a harmful immune response (Rh sensitivity) during future pregnancies.

Reduction of symptoms related to post-partum depression

Lim says that consuming placenta helps prevent post-partum depression (119). She also believes that it aids in balancing fluctuating hormone levels after birth (Lim 121).

Indeed, I have found lots of anecdotal evidence that placenta consumption helps to balance wildly swinging post-partum hormones/emotions. Lim provides this example, “In one case, a mother who has suffered from depression all her life, and feared post-partum depression, would take two placenta capsules whenever she felt depression coming on. ‘The placenta helped me, I could feel my mood changing from dark to enthusiastic about life. I’m so happy I have this medicine’ she said”(131).

Supports Lactation

In traditional Chinese medicine, doctors recommend boiling the placenta and drinking the broth to improve the milk quality supply of breastfeeding mothers (Lim 119). Additionally, according to Lim, eating the placenta can also help resolve other issues that may be inhibiting lactation, such as toxemia (Lim 123).

Photo Source: Monet Nicole

Reduces mother’s pain after child birth

Another amazing possible benefit of eating the placenta after birth is pain relief. According to Kristal et al., the placenta & amniotic fluid contain Placental Opiod Enhancing Factor (POEF), a molecule that helps naturally reduce the pain that occurs after birth (Enhancement 425-435). Other studies have confirmed that POEF occurs in the after birth of humans, as well as other mammals (Abbott 933-40).

Increased effectiveness of mother infant bonding

The hormones naturally released during a normal, physiological birth play a huge part in mother baby bonding in the immediate post-partum period. However, when birth happens inside of the modern medical system, the mother is often medicated unless she chooses to decline standard interventions. These medications don’t work the same way natural hormones do, and this interruption of the normal physiological process can actually alter the mother’s hormones, which may ultimately affect mother-baby bonding post-partum. Lim argues that placentophagy is a potential alternative that won’t have negative side effects, such as the impairment of the bonding process.

She states, “Pharmaceutical medicines are a miracle when needed and available, but they do have side effects. A woman who is given oxytocin drugs, methergine (both by injection) or misoprosol to control hemorrhage will experience an imbalance in her body. Hormones are powerful; the post-partum woman, in the best of circumstances, is coping with a lot of adjustments and re-balancing in the first precious hours and days after having a baby. Injecting drugs may be necessary to save the mother’s life, but how much better is it to use the new mother’s own natural resource to protect and heal her?” (122).

Eating your Placenta

In general, you will want to treat your placenta like you would any meat for consumption. It’s best to prepare it the same day, if possible. If not, do refrigerate it and eat it within 2-3 days of birth. Store the remaining placenta in the freezer if it hasn’t been consumed after a few days.

When preparing the placenta, remove any tough parts and calcifications, arteries, membranes, and caul. You will only wish to cook and eat the best parts. Save the remaining bits for a lovely placenta ritual. See my post: Honoring the Placenta After Birth for ideas.

Lim also notes, “when preparing the placenta, remember to have reverence, as it is a sacred medicine and indeed a Chakra. The person preparing the placenta should be in good health: of heart, mind and body, as she is transmitting her energy into the placenta” (131).

There are many options for consuming your placenta.

Raw

Some women choose to eat their placenta raw immediately after birth due to an urgent need. “In case of emergency (i.e. maternal hemorrhage and/or shock), pull off a nice cotyledon or two from the newly born placenta, leaving it connected to baby by the umbilical cord. Coat this raw bit of placenta with honey and give to mother to drink with water or other room temperature liquid,” says Lim (Lim 131).

Some mothers prefer to enjoy it raw, in smoothie form. Making a placenta smoothie is pretty straightforward. In her book, DIY Placenta Edibles, Katie DiBenedetto recommends adding cut up pieces of the placenta to a blender with orange juice, yogurt, and strawberries, but you can add whatever you like.

Dehydrated

Many women choose to have their placenta dehydrated. This is a good way to preserve it, as it can be ground up into a powder and stored easily. Any dehydrated placenta that hasn’t been consumed within a few weeks should be kept in the freezer.

Placenta powder can be stored in a jar and easily added into recipes or eaten with a bit of honey. Commonly, the powder is encapsulated (see below for more on this).

Typically, the placenta is prepared one of ways for dehydration. In the raw method, the placenta is simply left raw. In the traditional Chinese medicine method, it is steamed.

To prepare the placenta in the traditional Chinese medicine way, follow these steps: First, wash any extra blood off of the placenta. Place it “shiny side” down into a steamer. Steam it on low heat for about 15 minutes. You can check to see if it’s done by gently poking it with a fork. If no blood comes out, it is finished. Next, slice it into thin strips (about 1/8 inch thick) and put into a cookie tray. Bake on the lowest setting for a few hours. The placenta strips are done when they are very dry and brittle. You can then crush the dried strips into a powder using a mortar and pestle, or use a coffee grinder (Lim 130).

The powdered placenta can then be used in a variety of recipes. Placenta chocolates are one lovely idea for using this precious powder.

Encapsulated

As mentioned, encapsulation is a popular way to consume placenta. Capsules are alluring because they are easy to take & store, they are less “gross” for some women, and they are more socially acceptable/accessible. Capsules may seem more like “medicine” and be more approachable form of placentophagy than say, ripping off a chunk of raw plancenta to munch on.

Some women take these capsules regularly in the immediate post-partum period, while others just take them whenever they feel like they need them. Lim says that after giving birth, women can take 2-3 capsules a few times a day. She mentions that this can be particularly helpful for women who have had a traumatic birth or hemorrhage, and to prevent or ease post-partum depression (131).

Cooked

There are unlimited possibilities when it to comes to cooking with placenta. Options include tacos, pizza, burgers, pâté, stroganoff, spaghetti, stew, kebabs, curry, and more.

Lim’s book, Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra, as well as DiBenedetto‘s DIY Placenta Edibles, and Robin Cook’s book, 25 Placenta Recipes, provide a variety of recipes to help spark your creativity.

Tinctured

You may also choose to tincture your placenta. This is a pretty straightforward and stable way to preserve it. The tincture, if stored in a cool, dark place can last for years to be utilized during times of hormonal imbalance, like the child’s adolescence or menopause. Making the tincture is simple.

You will need:

  • a jar with a good lid
  • high-proof alcohol (I used 96% — be sure it’s potable! Do not use isopropyl!)
  • a small piece of raw placenta

Place the placenta in the jar and cover with alcohol. You will want a very small amount of placenta compared to the amount of alcohol you are using. Cap tightly and store out of direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks. Strain and re-bottle. Use as needed.

It’s important to note that while alcohol an excellent preservative that extracts many constituents, it does not extract minerals. So, if your primary reason for placenta consumption is the nutritional benefits, tincture would not be the best method of consumption.

My Experience

After my daughter was born, a friend dehydrated a portion of our placenta for me, encapsulating some of it. I tinctured the rest.

I wasn’t opposed to eating some of it raw immediately after birth, but there wasn’t really a need & I didn’t feel drawn to it. I didn’t have any issues with bleeding post-partum. I credit this to my religious drinking of raspberry leaf and nettle teas during pregnancy. (For more about herbs for pregnancy, check out my post: Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy)

I did take the capsules and the powder mixed with a bit of honey throughout my post-partum period, more regularly in the immediate days and weeks after birth, and as needed in the following months.

I also found it helpful when my moon returned about a year later, with wildly swinging emotions, heavy flow, intense cramps, & fatigue. I started making Placenta Chocolate Syrup to eat throughout each moon time. I would mix a spoonful of the dehydrated placenta powder with a spoonful of cacao, and then stir in molasses til it reached a syrupy consistency. Sometimes I would add a pinch of cinnamon. Enjoying a spoonful of this special syrup as needed was a lovely little ritual that helped brighten those times.

Though there may not be scientific proof that eating your placenta has measurable health benefits, I did find it helpful. For me, it’s hormone and mood balancing effects were the most notable. I recognize this could be due to a placebo effect. I believed it would help in these ways, and so in my mind, it did. However, truthfully, I think placenta medicine has benefits that science will never be able to measure, as they are outside of scientific framework. I would encourage you to listen to your own intuition as you consider placenta medicine. Only you know what feels right for your body.

If you don’t feel drawn to eating your placenta, but still want to honor it’s amazing role in nourishing & sustaining your baby during pregnancy & birth, check out my post Honoring the Placenta After Birth.

You may also be interested in more information about respectfully separating your baby from their placenta. Check out: Severing the Umbilical Cord: Preparing for Your Baby’s Separation from their Placenta After Birth


References

Abbott, P., et al. “Placental opioid-enhancing factor (POEF): generalizability of effects.” Physiology & behavior vol. 50,5 (1991): 933-40. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(91)90417-m

Buckley, Sarah J., MD. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.

Buckley, Sarah J., MD. “The Amazing Placenta.” Mothering. December 18, 2010. http://www.mothering.com/articles/the-amazing-placenta.

Cook, Robin. 25 Placenta Recipes.

Coyle, Cynthia W., Ph.D., M.S., Kathryn E. Hulse, Ph.D., […], and Crystal T. Clark, M.D., M.Sc. Placentophagy: Therapeutic Miracle or Myth? Arch Womens Ment Health. 2015 Oct. 18(5): 673-680. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4580132/#__ffn_sectitle

DiBenedetto, Katie. DIY Placenta Edibles.

Lim, Robin. “Are There Vampires in the Birth Rooms?”

Lim, Robin. Placenta: the Forgotten Chakra. 65, 73-89, 119-126.

Kristal, Mark B. “Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia.” Neuroscience & Biobehavorial Reviews 15. 1991. 425-435.

Kristal, Mark B. Placentophagia: A Behavioral Enigma. February 2, 1980.

Saldaya, Emilee. “What to Do with the Cord? (And Placenta!)” Free Birth Society Podcast. April 5, 2019. www.freebirthsociety.com/blogs/the-free-birth-podcast/what-to-do-with-the-cord-and-placenta

Selander, J. Human maternal placentophagy: a survey of self-reported motivations and experiences associated with placenta consumption. Ecol Food Nutr. 2013;52(2):93-115.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23445390/

Simpkin, Penny, Janet Whalley, and Ann Keppler. Pregnancy, Childbirth & the Newborn.

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