Is it safe to eat the placenta?

3 min read

Is it safe to eat the placenta?
Eating the placenta is the latest viral TikTok trend—but is it actually safe? We ask the experts about the risks that placentophagy poses to your baby's health
Celebrities around the world and a growing number of digital content creators are turning to the placenta to gain some benefits after childbirth. However, there are no solid scientific studies to back up this theory.
Placentophagy (the consumption of the placenta) is being promoted through TikTok tutorials on how to prepare the placenta.
Some mothers are eating it raw, preparing it roasted in their kitchens, drinking it in smoothies with berries or converting it into capsules—one of the biggest trends at the moment to make it more appetising.
"Some mothers are eating the placenta raw or preparing it roasted in their kitchens"
Patients have the right to decide whether they want to ingest their own placenta—there is no specific law that prevents it.
However, some countries have more relaxed or less flexible regulations for the types of products available, such as capsules or pills—which can be sold for around £200 or even more.
As with many health trends, there is no fine print with warnings. In the meantime, scientists and health care providers point out that everyone should know the risks, to mother and baby, before deciding whether to try it.

The risks of ingesting the placenta

Image of a jar of pills which are made from the placenta, so placenta pills
"Ingesting placenta increases the risk of B Streptococcus infection, and this can be a serious, and sometimes fatal infection for both the mother and baby," says Karine Patel, registered dietitian and founder of Dietitian Fit & Co, based in London, Surrey and Berkshire.
The different types of preparations do not completely eliminate bacteria and viruses, Baby Center indicates. Since one newborn developed a group B strep infection, The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has warned about the risks, because it can cause serious illness in the baby.
"Ingesting placenta increases the risk of B Streptococcus infection"
Healthcare providers encourage new mothers to feed properly while breastfeeding, because the baby receives everything that the mother's body is processing through breast milk.
"Even if the placenta is cooked, it doesn’t completely destroy infectious bacteria and viruses that the placenta may have," Patel says.
"A mother who got infected by the group B streptococcus infection after consuming infected placenta pills passed on the infection to her newborn by breastfeeding the baby."

Why do people eat their placenta?

During pregnancy, the placenta is synonymous with life. Through it, the mother passes nutrients to the baby to drive their development over nine months.
Supporters of placentophagy believe that many of those nutrients that remain in the placenta can be useful for the mother to have a faster recovery from childbirth.
However, despite the placenta's good qualities, there is no certainty on whether these are absorbed in appropriate amounts by mothers who choose to eat it.
Some arguments compare humans to other species. If many animals eat the placenta, why not humans? In the case of animals, their instinct inclines them to protect their offspring from possible predators, and so evidence of a recent birth must be eliminated.

Benefits of eating your placenta: Real or placebo effect?

Image of a placenta on a towel after childbirth
Proponents suggest that ingesting the placenta right after delivery provides increased energy, stops bleeding, improves breastmilk supply and prevents postpartum depression.
But there are other methods that share these benefits, so is it worth the risk?
"There is very little evidence behind the benefits claimed by eating the placenta"
"There is very little evidence behind the benefits claimed by eating the placenta, and the associated infection risks outweigh the benefits," Patel says. "This can cause a serious illness in newborns."
It is thought that placental consumption may replenish nutrients and balance hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone levels that fluctuate during pregnancy.
But the evidence of these possible benefits is anecdotal. More controlled studies are needed to offer enlightening data on the practice. In the meantime, some scientists attribute the benefits to the placebo effect.

How can new mothers boost their health without eating the placenta?

There are other ways to achieve the health benefits attributed to placenta intake. A balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent postpartum depression, Patel explains.
"Studies have found that women who have low levels of DHA —a type of omega-3—have a higher incidence of postpartum depression," Patel says.
DHA can be found in oily fish—such as salmon, sardine, mackerel and herring. Meanwhile, vegetarians can obtain DHA from other foods such as chia, flaxseeds or walnuts.
To increase the production of breast milk, Patel recommends "consuming foods that have been linked to increasing milk productivity, such as fenugreek, fennel, ginger, garlic and brewer’s yeast."
Other practices can contribute to milk production as well, and are encouraged by lactation experts.
"Increased breast milk production can be done by breastfeeding more often, pumping milk between feeds, breastfeeding from both sides at each feeding and holding your baby close, especially skin-to-skin," Patel says.
If, after listening to your doctor's recommendations, you decide to give eating the placenta a try, you should keep in mind the management, sterilisation and storage of the placenta to reduce the risk of contamination.
It is also advisable to have it analysed by an expert to rule out the possibility of an abnormal placenta, which could indicate that something is wrong with the mother or the baby.
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