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Is Eating Your Placenta Really Safe?

Are you considering eating your placenta after you give birth? Placentophagy "is the act of mammals eating the afterbirth of their young after childbirth." Humans are the only mammals that don't routinely do this. It's not a new thing, but it has become more common, and even some celebrity moms are touting its supposed benefits.

Actress Mayim Bialik—who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience—is known for being a proponent of several "unique" parenting practices. She says placenta has "protein and iron-rich properties that are critical in helping the mother's body recuperate after giving birth. End of story. It's good for mammals to eat the placenta, and we evolved for that purpose." Is it really that simple?

We already know it provides growing babies with all the nutrients, vitamins and oxygen they need. It's also home to your "mommy hormones," estrogen and progesterone. Probably the most common claim about eating the placenta is that it can stave off postpartum depression (PPD), and that claim concerns some doctors.

Harvey J. Kliman, director of Yale's Reproductive and Placental Research Unit, is concerned that women with PPD might rely on placenta pills or other methods of ingesting it rather than seeking medical care. "It's a homeopathic, neutral nothing," he says. "You may as well eat Tums or just make anything up."

University of Nevada, Las Vegas anthropology professor Daniel Benyshek and graduate assistant Sharon Young published the first experiential study on human placentophagia in May 2013, but the results were mostly anecdotal. Ninety-six percent of the women who had eaten their placenta said they had a "positive" or "very positive" experience, and 98 percent said they would do it again. Benyshek and Young are doing more research on whether eating the placenta has measurable benefits.

Mark B. Kristal, a behavioral neuroscientist and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University at Buffalo, makes a compelling point about the safety of placentophagia in humans.

"The near-absence of placentophagia among humans, when compared to the near-universality of the behavior in other mammals, has to be considered seriously. The contrast suggests that it may have been occasionally harmful to humans," Kristal says.

Midwives and doulas, as well as parents who practice attachment parenting, seem more comfortable with placentophagy than medical doctors.

"Yes it is safe and offers some benefits," says Pat Dodge, a certified nurse midwife (CNM) at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

But most physicians we spoke with disagree with injesting it, at least for now.

"The growing trend of the placenta consumption practice is concerning because while in utero the placenta acts as a filter, filtering out things the baby shouldn't get, including bacteria. There are no proven medical benefits to placenta consumption," says Cristina Perez, an OB/GYN with The Women's Specialists of Houston at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women. "The placenta contains iron, protein, vitamins and hormones, but those elements are usually lost when preparing it in the pill form."

Most of the reservations, like those of Perez, seem to revolve around bacteria. Because of so many unanswered questions, it may be best to wait until further studies are completed. If it's something you're truly committed to, make sure you thoroughly research the company you plan to use to make the pills or store it for future use.

If you want to preserve your placenta but don't want to eat it, check out this Placenta Teddy Bear.

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