The Short of It
Right now, the state of Texas considers a woman's placenta to be medical waste. But due to a bill passed in the Texas Legislature, starting in 2016, women will be able to take the afterbirth home with them and eat it if they want.
After Texas mom Melissa Mathis spent several months of her pregnancy trying to get permission to take her own placenta home from the hospital after giving birth, she and her husband still had to sneak the organ out of the hospital when no one was looking.
"And we were able to grab it, and we got it and put it in a cooler and threw it in a backpack, and my husband handed it off to the placenta handler in the lobby of the hospital, and that's not ideal. And, in my opinion, that's not acceptable," Melissa told NPR.
So, she took the issue to her state representative, Dallas Republican Kenneth Sheets. Sheets eventually signed a law saying women are allowed to keep their placentas if they sign a waiver and test negative for infectious disease. Texas is only the third state—after Hawaii and Oregon—to have a written law on the subject.
You probably have heard of placenta eating by now, especially since a number of celebrities—Kourtney Kardashian, January Jones and Alicia Silverstone to name a few—have talked openly about doing it. Some people believe that placentophagy (the technical term for consuming your own afterbirth) can help ease the baby blues, aid with breastfeeding and maybe even relieve pain.
The most popular way to do it seems to be cooking the organ, drying it, making it into a powder and then encapsulating it into pills that are swallowed throughout postpartum recovery. I also have heard of simply cooking it whole and eating it like a regular piece of meat.
Still, medical experts say there are no proven benefits of eating the afterbirth. A review of several medical studies found no evidence that placentophagy prevented postpartum depression, eased pain, boosted energy or helped with lactation. In fact, the review's researchers warned against eating it, since there haven't yet been studies on the risks involved with it.
Many women are interested in placentophagy, whether it's proven to work or not. Dr. Catherine Spong, deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says $44 million will be spent on placenta research over the next few years. Perhaps that will lead to more answers on the safety and benefits—or lack thereof—of the practice and help other states decide if they, too, should give women the official right to keep theirs.
Me? Well, I, um, saw my placenta after birth. The nurse pointed out the "tree of life"—the web of veins that deliver blood and nutrients to the baby. I was surprised to find that it was pretty cool (and not gross), but I don't think I could bring myself to eat it. If any woman does though, that should certainly be her prerogative. After all, this is part of her own body! Good for Melissa for standing up for her—and other women's—rights.
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