Two researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas decided to study one of the most controversial practices in the highly-fraught world of modern maternity care: placenta consumption. Their findings? 96% of placenta-eaters said they had a “very positive” experience.
Placenta consumption has become a more widely-known and popular practice in recent years, coming out out of the natural birth world and into the spotlight. January Jones ate her placenta and seemed to have a postive experience. Holly Madison gave birth just a few days ago and plans to ingest her placenta in pill form, too. Ingesting placenta has a host of reported benefits to new moms, including a reduction in postpartum depression, help with milk production and overall hormone balance after pregnancy.
The study performed by the researchers, Daniel Benyshek and graduate assistant Sharon Young, was a survey of 189 self-identified women from the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and Singapore. The study attempted to find out information about women’s placenta consumptions habits and responses. Unsurprisingly, according to the Las Vegas Sun:
The women in the study were overwhelmingly white, married, college-educated and were solidly middle- to upper-middle class. Most of the women had home births.
The vast majority of women ingested their placenta once, most of them through encapsulation (when the placenta is steam cooked and then ground into a fine powder which is then put into pills). The vast majority also reported positive experiences, with 98% of women saying they would do it again, and 96% saying they had a “positive” or “very positive” experience.
Critics of the practice say at worst, it can cause headaches or stomach problems and at best, is just a placebo. The medical community still seems to be adjusting to the fact that placenta-eating is something that educated mothers want to do; even alternative medicine pioneers like Dr. Andrew Weil have slammed the practice.
Up to now, most of the evidence in favor of placenta ingestion has been anecdotal, but hopefully this study can spur a more rigorous scientific inquiry. The UNLV researchers plan to conduct further study on human placentophagia, hopefully a placebo vs placenta study in the future, as well as more research into the nutrient and hormone content of placentas and why they might help women “bounce back” after giving birth.
I’m really glad to see some scientific research about placenta ingesting. I’m a doula and I’m pretty open-minded, so I don’t have a problem with the practice and I think it has the power to help women, even if that power can be attributed to the placebo effect (Whatever gets you through those first few weeks and months with a newborn is just fine in my book). If placentophagy is truly a beneficial practice, perhaps studies like this one can help people to see that it can be another, valuable option available to ease women into the often-tricky territory of new motherhood.
Photo: Flickr user mikeyfrecks