For the majority of Australians, placenta consumption is not commonly discussed and many of us are not yet desensitised to the thought of it. Like all good parents or family members wanting to protect their loved ones, you may have concerns or fears around this unknown topic. I urge you to find the answers to your concerns in order to make an educated decision and have confidence in doing so. Below I have responded to common objections around consuming placentas to help guide you.
“Animals only eat their placentas to avoid attracting predators”
Placentophagia is a common practice amounts mammals, with camels and aquatic mammals being the exception (Odent, 2014). Some people believe these animals only eat their placenta to hide traces of the birth to avoid attracting predators. While on the surface this is a sound theory, Kristal (1980) argue this is not the case. He found that unchallenged predators, also ate their placentas and animals where the newborn is able to get up and walk away, the mother remained until the entire placenta had been consumed. Additionally there is no effort by the mothers clean up the fluids that have saturated the ground which would also presumably attract predators (Kristal, 1980).
There is also an animal called tayassu tajacu, where Johnson (2017), speaks about the mother resting and recovering after the birth and the sisters of the newborn ingest the placenta. In this scenario it is concluded the hormones from ingesting the placenta initiated lactation in the older siblings and they became a wet nurse to the newborns (Johnson, 2017).
“I have no innate impulse to eat my placenta… is there any history?”
It is speculated that this was once an instinctive, innate behaviour, that has been lost over time like many others. Gelis (1996), explores the idea that men were disgusted by the act of placentophagia and it was in their suppression of this instinctive behaviour that caused it to be lost over time. Midwifery knowledge including the art of placenta healing was mostly lost between the 15th and 18th centuries, in the years of burning witches (Enning, 2001).
It is argued placentophagia did not occur in ancient history because of the lack of reports in ancient texts, however these texts rarely mention the domestic life of women. Documented history is largely focused on mens success so it could be questioned placentophagia was deemed insignificant or non-essential to report. It has only been since the 1960 to 1980’s, due to women’s movement and childbirth reform groups, that men have been welcome into the birth space. This leaves the possibility that the writers of history were not even aware.
What we do know… is that there is history of placenta remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine and documented from the 16th century onwards. If a civilisation or culture did not show evidence of placentophagia there was at least the understanding that the placenta is an organ containing much power, which was honoured with in-depth rituals holding deep cultural significance. For example the Māori return the placenta to the earth and most often bury it in a place with ancestral connections (Museum of New Zealand, 2006). In Ancient Egypt, the placenta has its own hieroglyph and archaeologists have concluded that some royal placentas were even buried in individual tombs (Gelis, 1996).
“Doesn’t the heat from steaming and dehydrating destroy the nutrients we’re trying to replenish?”
No! Results of research studies suggest that “the amount of nutrients particularly protein and minerals in heat-dried human placentas were enriched” (Phuapradit et al., 2000).
“What if my baby passed meconium? Can I still encapsulate my placenta?”
Yes, you can! In the beginning of the encapsulation process, your placenta will be thoroughly rinsed with water to remove any meconium from the exterior surface. There is no research evidence suggesting any contraindications to rinsing and consuming a meconium stained placenta.
“It just sounds disgusting…”
The beauty of encapsulating your placenta is that it stays beautiful for you! This process turns your placenta into a finely ground powder and places it into capsules. It is as ‘disgusting’ as your vitamins. If you do have an aftertaste when taking your capsules, you may prefer to take them with a meal or snack.
Enning, C, (2001). Placenta: The Gift of Life. Motherbaby Press: Eugene, Oregon.
Gelis, J. (1996). History of Childbirth: Fertility, Pregnancy and Birth in Early Modern Europe. Oxford: United Kingdom.
Johnson, S. (2017). Placenta Encapsulation? A Scientific Revelation! [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/217687221/98f5be52ac
Museum of New Zealand, (2006). Whenua to whenua. Retrieved from https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/1437
Kristal, M. (1980). Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 4, pp.141–150. Retrieved from https://mommyfeelgood.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/placentophagia-a-biobehavioral-enigma.pdf
Phuapradit, W., Chanrachakul, B., Thuvasethakul, P., Leelaphiwat, S., Sassanarakit, S., & Chanworachaikul, S. (2000). Nutrients and hormones in heat dried human placenta. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 83(6), 690-694. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10932499
Odent, M. (2014). Placentophagy. Midwifery Today, 2014 Spring(109), pp.17-18. Retired from https://midwiferytoday.com/mt-articles/placentophagy/