“Hey Babe, I’m thinking about eating my placenta”

Placentophagia, is a growing trend in Australia. There is a growing curiosity in new mothers and their families who are full of questions and searching for support and information about this topic. Below I have answered the most common questions around consuming placentas.

What is Placentophagia?

Placentophagia is the practice of consuming and ingesting the placenta or “after birth” either raw or modified by cooking or encapsulation. 
There are two different types of placentophagia which include:
1. Maternal placentophagia – A woman’s consumption of her own placenta in any form and at any time.
2. Non maternal placentophagia – Consumption of placenta by anyone other than the mother at any time.

Who is Placentophagia for and what are the benefits?

Mothers are most commonly the recipient of placentophagia in attempt to avoid baby blues/postnatal depression, gain the nutritional and hormonal benefits, to honour their placenta, for general wellbeing or due to a friend, family member or care providers recommendation (Placenta Services Australia, 2019).

Selander, Cantor, Young and Benyshek (2013) found that women who consume their placenta most commonly report benefits of improved mood, increased energy, improved lactation, and reduction in vaginal bleeding. Of these respondents, 95% reported that consuming their placenta was a very positive or positive overall experience (Selander et al., 2013).

I’m having my baby in a hospital, will they let me keep my placenta?

If you have a healthy vaginal or caesarean birth, the answer is YES, and ALWAYS YES! If you have complications during your birth, the answer should still be YES! There may just be a couple extra simple steps. 

For the best chance to effortlessly keep your placenta, let the staff know early! A perfect opportunity to inform your midwife or doctor is when they talk to you about your your birth plan during your antenatal visits (The Womens, 2018).

Sometimes placentas are kept at the hospital or sent to a laboratory for further testing. In this case you can request only a part of the placenta be sent and for you to take the remainder home. It is possible to call and arrange to pick up your placenta after the examination is complete however it will longer to be safe to consume due to the unknown conditions the placenta was kept in and chemicals used. 

The hospital will likely ask you to sign a release form to “indicate that you understand the public health issues associated with your request and agree to take responsibility for the safe containment, management and disposal of your human tissue” (Barwon Health, p.3).

For Geelong birthing women is it unlikely you will receive any push back from your health care providers as women requesting to keep their placenta is becoming more common in this area. However if you do experience this, remember and don’t be afraid to remind your midwife or doctor, you are entitled to Women Centred Care in Australia. This means you are entitled to care that focuses on your unique needs, expectations and aspirations that aims to meet your physical, emotional, psychosocial, spiritual and cultural needs. Woman-centred care respects the woman’s ownership of her health information, rights and preferences while EMPOWERING HER CHOICES (Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, 2018, p.9).

Are there any dangers to Placentophagia?

There has been limited research completed around placentophagia so it is up to the consumer to weigh up the benefits and potential dangers to make a decision based on their own comfort level. Below I have shared information around common concerns.

Outcomes for the baby – There is NO evidence that the neonate is at risk from their mother consuming their placenta (Benyshek, et al., 2018).

Adverse effects – A survey of self-reported motivations and experiences associated with placenta consumption found that 4% of participants experienced headaches which was the leading adverse effect reported (Selander 2013). If this occurs for you, you may wish to reduced your dosage or discontinue consumption.

Blood-Borne Illnesses – This should NOT be a concern for the mother of the placenta. When the placenta is being consumed by anyone other than the mother there is a risk of passing on blood-borne illnesses.

Harmful elements – This has NOT been found to be a concern for women with clean living conditions. Young et al., (2016) investigated arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and uranium which were all found to be well below established toxicity thresholds. However if you have had significant heavy metal exposure please note there is the possibility of metal accumulation and I am unable to determine specific levels or safety. A study examining mothers placentas from heavily polluted areas in southern Poland, did show increased levels of heavy metals compared to mothers placentas from clean living conditions (Sawicka-Kapusta et al., 2010).

Contamination – Please note you can have confidence in me as a Certified Placenta Arts Specialist (APPAC) having completed appropriate safety training to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. Association of Placenta Preparation Arts providers are “required to uphold the highest possible standards in their professional competence, business practices, quality of services, and personal integrity” (APPA, 2019). Every APPA Provider has appropriate training and certification, in blood borne pathogens, proper hygiene and sterilisation practices and follow proper preparation and handling guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination of the placenta. You can read more about this here: https://placentaassociation.com/standards/ 

Can I consume my placenta if I’m vegetarian/vegan?

Firstly I think it’s important to remind yourself of why you choose to have a vegetarian or vegan diet/lifestyle and then ask yourself if eating your placenta aligns with these beliefs. To support you in this decision I have provided below the common reasons people choose be vegetarian or vegan and if they may be a reason to not consume your placenta.

Animal Cruelty – There are no animals being harmed during this process. Through encapsulation the only living element is the placenta itself which is always handled with great care and respect. Placentophagia is the only form of meat consumption possible from life, rather than death. I also always use vegan friendly capsules made from HPMC – Hypromellose Cellulose (plant fibre).

Sustainable Living / the Environment – I am very conscious during the encapsulating process to be as sustainable as possible. For example, I choose reusable materials where possible that can be sterilised in replacement of single use materials. There are still however products like gloves that must remain a single use item for your safety and mine. If you strive for a perfectively sustainable lifestyle and this really bothers you, please review alternative options I have available that you can do with your placenta. There is always a better and more sustainable option than discarding your placenta as “medical waste.”

Personal Health – If you are already proactive in your life to make conscious choices to better your heath, I suggest you complete your research around placentophagia to feel comfortable and confident in your decision. You will find many women reporting personal health benefits from consuming their placenta, as stated above.

Humans were not designed to eat meat – By dehydrating and encapsulating your placenta, you have something very different than a steak trying to move through your gut. Although there is little to no research evidence as to how the human digestive system breaks down and absorbs placentas, I feel at ease knowing herbivores consumes their placentas with camels, manatees and dugongs being the exception (Odent, 2014).

Social Media / Trends – This one is simple… If you want to be a part of a growing movement, here it is! (Although I hope you are interested in eating your placenta for more reasons that this). Placentophagia is a growing trend in the western world that I believe will only get bigger and more common.

Simply don’t like the taste of meat – Placenta capsules have no more of a resemblance to a piece of meat than a vitamin tablet. If you do experience a slight after taste you may choose to consume capsules with food.

References

APPA, Association of Placenta Preparation Arts. (2019) Standards, Why Choose an APPA Certified Provider??. Retrieved from placentaassociation.com/standards/

Barwon Health. (unknown). Taking your placenta home patient information. Retrieved from https://www.barwonhealth.org.au/maternity-services/images/37312175.pdf

Benyshek, D., Cheyney, M., Brown, J. and Bovbjerg, M. (2018). Placentophagy among women planning community births in the United States: Frequency, rationale, and associated neonatal outcomes. Birthhttps://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12354

Enning, C, (2001). Placenta: The Gift of Life. Motherbaby Press: Eugene, Oregon.

K. Sawicka-Kapusta, G., Bydłoń, M. Zakrzewska, A., Nowicka-Połeć, M., & Zadrożna, B. Nowak. (2010). Heavy Metal Concentration in Human Placenta from Southern Poland. Effects on Human Health, 15th ICHMET, 886-889. Retrieved from https://inis.iaea.org/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/41/131/41131312.pdf

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2018). Midwife Standards for practice. Retrieved from https://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Professional-standards/Midwife-standards-for-practice.aspx

Odent, M. (2014). Placentophagy. Midwifery Today, 2014 Spring(109), pp.17-18. Retired from https://midwiferytoday.com/mt-articles/placentophagy/

Placenta Services Australia. (2019). PSA Data Collection. Retrieved from https://placentaservices.com.au/psa-data-collection/

Selander, J., Cantor, A., Young, SM., & Benyshek, DC. (2013). Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated with Placenta Consumption. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 52(2), pp.93-115. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03670244.2012.719356

The Womens, The Royal Womens Hospital Victoria. (2018) Taking your placenta home. Retrieved from https://thewomens.r.worldssl.net/images/uploads/fact-sheets/TakingPlacentaHome_IH080518.pdf

Young, S., Gryder, L., Zava, D., Kimball, D., & Benyshek, D. (2016). Presence and concentration of 17 hormones in human placenta processed for encapsulation and consumption. Placenta, 43, 86-89. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.placenta.2016.05.00

Young, SM., & Benyshek DC. (2010). In search of human placentophagy: a cross-cultural survey of human placenta consumption, disposal practices, and cultural beliefs. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 49(6), pp.467-84 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03670244.2010.524106

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