The practice of women eating their placentas after giving birth, known as placentophagia, is nothing new in home birth and alternative health communities. After actress January Jones announced in an interview with People Magazine that she ate her placenta following the birth of her son, interest in placentophagia has gained momentum. Advocates on both sides of the issue are weighing in on whether or not it’s safe to eat your afterbirth.

Benefits of Eating the Placenta

Humans are one of the few mammals who do not routinely eat their placentas, according to the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny. Camels, llamas, and marine mammals are other known exceptions.

Supporters claim that placentophagia promotes lactation, prevents postpartum depression, relieves pain, encourages bonding with baby, and increases energy. There are a variety of ways women prepare the placenta for consumption. These include:

  • steaming and dehydrating the placenta and making it into capsules
  • boiling the placenta and eating it as you would a piece of meat
  • adding the placenta to a smoothie

Some women choose to eat the placenta raw, immediately after birth. You can even find recipes online to make your placenta more palatable.

The Evidence

The Internet is full of anecdotal placenta-eating success stories and a handful of experiences that ended in disaster. In a survey published in Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 76 percent of 189 female participants had a positive experience consuming their placenta. Some reported negative effects, including:

  • unpleasant taste and odor of the placenta or placenta capsules
  • increased vaginal bleeding
  • increased uterine contractions
  • digestive issues
  • increased incidence and intensity of hot flashes
  • increased anxiety

There is little definitive scientific research on the benefits and safety of placentophagia. Many of the studies that do exist are dated or focus on the practice of placentophagia among non-human mammals.

What You Need to Know

If you decide to eat your placenta, there are some things you should consider to help make the process as safe as possible.

  1. The placenta is like any other organ meat. It can spoil and harbor dangerous bacteria. If you aren’t processing and eating it right away, freeze it until you’re ready to use it.
  2. It’s unclear whether or not the placenta loses its potency and nutritional benefits when steamed or boiled. Keep this in mind as you consider preparation methods.
  3. There is concern that women experiencing postpartum depression may rely on eating their placenta for relief instead of seeking professional help. This may cause their depression to worsen. If you experience postpartum depression symptoms, consult your doctor.
  4. Know what you’re eating. Some people add herbs or other ingredients to their placenta recipe. Be sure you understand any potential side effects.
  5. If you start to feel sick or have negative side effects, stop eating the placenta immediately and contact your doctor.

Is it safe to eat your placenta? The verdict is still out. While anecdotal evidence suggests many women do it safely, there are no double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies on the practice. Since side effects may be serious, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons, and about your specific health situation.