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Q: I’ve heard that eating my placenta after having my baby can be beneficial. Should I consider it?
A: Thanks to recent media buzz and the release of a 2012 study, interest in placentophagia—the eating of any or all of the components of the afterbirth, including the placenta—is growing.
January Jones, an actress on TV’s Mad Men, told People magazine that ingesting capsules made from her placenta helped curb her postnatal depression. Other women have reported energy boosts from eating their placentas. Almost all mammals eat their afterbirth, but behavioral scientists aren’t sure why. One theory is that consuming the placenta reduces the risk of attracting predators to the birth site.
According to Mark Kristal, Ph.D., neuroscientist at the University of Buffalo in New York, who has studied placentophagia in nonhuman mammals for decades, the most compelling argument in support of placentophagia is the possible presence of compounds in the afterbirth that increase the mother’s ability to withstand pain and enhance bonding with her newborn.
But such compounds have yet to be identified, and if present, they would likely be destroyed by the heat used to cook or otherwise process the placenta. Kristal concluded that humans might have good reasons for not ingesting the afterbirth—for example, the placenta acts as a filtering system and therefore could contain environmental toxins.
At present, I don’t think there’s enough evidence for me to endorse this practice.