Placentophagy, consumption of one’s own placenta, is undergoing a small revival in Western culture. Numerous benefits to maternal health and wellbeing have be purported by placentophagy. These include specific hormones and nutrients which may be derived from ingestion, benefits for nutrition, the prevention of postnatal depression and increased lactation. However research in support of these claims is limited, dated and inconclusive. Further in some cases the validity of the research methodology used is highly questionable, subsequently calling the research results into question. In addition no research exists on encapsulation, the most common practice currently used by women wishing to ingest their placenta.

There are however two hypotheses for placentophagy which have been substantiated. Research on rats has shown that ingestion of the substance placental opioid-enhancing factor (POEF), found in placenta and amniotic fluid, offers an analgesic effect which lessens the pain of labour and birth. This in turn has the potential to subsequently create positive consequences on maternal care taking activities. However the effect of POEF relies in part on consumption of amniotic fluid during labour and birth, so the applicability of this research to humans is questionable. In addition, possible negative consequences of placentophagy have been postulated, including the possibility that a placenta could contain enzymes and environmental toxins which have been filtered by it.

However while limited research exists regarding the benefits of human placentophagy, historical evidence of placenta consumption, and placental-based remedies, can be observed back at least 1400 years. Moreover the absence of substantiated evidence on placentophagy could be attributed at least in part to loss or repression as a result of social or political factors, like the loss of midwifery knowledge in Europe as a result of the witch trials.

In any case with women and midwives providing personal accounts of the benefits of placentophagy, woman’s experiences and rights to self determination cannot be ignored. While midwives have a duty to use evidence-based practice, they must also respect the views and opinions of women seeking placentophagy, and promote informed choice.

Source: Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits? British Journal of Midwifery, July 2012, Vol 20, No 7

Published 14/11/2012