Earlier this week, Andrew Weil, MD, one of the most recognizable faces of the alternative medicine movement, came down against placenta-eating on Facebook and the Q&A section of his website. I’m disappointed to see an advocate for nontraditional medicine (Dr. Weil has even reportedly shown support for the use of Ecstasy, or MDMA, in his patients) eschew a practice commonly associated with the “natural” side of healthcare. Weil says of placenta eating, “There’s not a shred of scientific evidence behind any of this.” While Dr. Weil doesn’t unequivocally say “don’t eat your placenta,” he represents placenta-eating as a New York- and Hollywood-spurred “trend,” and clearly shows his disdain for the idea, slighting the many women who’ve embraced the benefits of eating their placentas.
While Dr. Weil is correct that there is little-to-no medical evidence in favor of placenta eating, a new study by placentophagia expert Dr. Mark Kristal suggests that the anecdotal evidence clearly calls for more study of placenta consumption’s benefits. Proponents says it helps with breastfeeding, energy levels, and can help stave off postpartum depression. And it’s been a common practice within Chinese medicine for hundreds of years.
While I can’t say for sure that I’d eat my own placenta (leaning towards “not” here, but leaving my options open), the continued negative discussion about the practice raises some red flags for me as a feminist. I don’t buy the argument set forth by Double X’s Amanda Marcotte that placenta-eating is another hippie-dippie health trend that places yet more pressure on women to be the “good mommy” and regress towards antiquated gender roles. And while I’m not of the mind that all women’s choices should be considered feminist just because they’re made by someone with a vagina, I’m wary of shooting down something many women have found helpful, just because it’s unusual or perceived as “gross.”
Ick factor aside, it doesn’t surprise me that there has been so much controversy about the practice, especially after January Jones‘ admission that she consumed her own placenta after her son was born in 2011. The evidence for and against it is largely anecdotal, and the discussion revolves around opinion rather than fact, which is always problematic. But now that both doctors and feminists are both condemning the practice, I can’t help thinking that this is another case of women’s choices about their bodies being policed and dissected by talking heads.
For some reason, people just can’t get behind the idea that women can and should make their own decisions about their reproductive health. Honestly, I’m all in favor of consenting adults doing whatever they’d like to with their bodies, whether the practice is based in Western medicine or not. Placenta eating is certainly on the “alternative” end of the post-partum care spectrum, but it’s being embraced by women of all walks of life, and I don’t think their personal experiences should be discounted or torn down.
If you want to eat your placenta with a little bit of lemon and ginger, or take placenta pills, more power to you. Like any health practice, be it a new exercise regimen or a modified diet, you should do your research (lots of it), and make an informed decision about what’s right for yourself, your body, your baby and your family. As for me, I’m in favor of any practice that helps women deal with the often difficult and fraught transition into new motherhood, even if, like experts say, the benefits of placenta eating are just the placebo effect.