PLACENTOPHAGY, a term which has been used to describe a woman's decision to ingest her placenta after giving birth, is not a new phenomenon, but ever since celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Alicia Silverstone showed interest, the trend has taken off, and has seen women enjoying their placentas raw, packaged in capsules, cooked, blended in smoothies, or eaten as snacks.
The reason? Some medical personnel and an increasing number of mothers are hooked to a theory that the placenta not only retains nutrients and hormones such as oestrogen, but is also said to improve lactation, decrease the recovery time that mothers need after birth, and ward of post-partum stress.
But dietician and nutritionist Jenelle Solomon says that there are mixed views among medical professionals on the benefits of eating the placenta.
“I in no way support consuming the placenta — not just because it simply sounds gross, but the placenta could also have any number of unwanted/harmful contents that could not only harm the mother but the baby as well,” Solomon said.
She cited the details of a 2016 case in Oregon, USA, where health officials identified a case of group B streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacterial infection in an infant. The findings resulted in medical staff ordering a blood culture on the remaining sample of the placenta which was being consumed by the infant's mother, and it was found to be positive for the GBS bacteria. Solomon said that this case is more than enough reason to discourage people from ingesting their placentas in any form at all if their child's health is their first priority. This is supported by a report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention published earlier this month.
The report suggests that there is no data to support claims that the placenta wards off post-partum stress. It said infectious pathogens are not eradicated when preparing capsules, and when the placenta is contaminated, it has been found to contain bacterial components such as lead and mercury which can be passed on to the child through breastfeeding.
In addressing the belief that the placenta accelerates the speed of recovery after birth, Solomon said that long before women were exposed to this new trend, recovery was achieved at the rate that it should be.
“Recovering after childbirth is a process and it should not be rushed. If it is that you must return to work sooner than you had hoped, then there are a number of fruits and vegetables with the essential vitamins and minerals that the body requires to heal, and for the immune system and the body in general to gain strength. The same argument can be used to answer claims that the placenta is rich in iron and other vitamins and nutrients. There are just too many available foods with these same essential products,” Solomon advised.
A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and appropriate meat sources if the woman so chooses, and food items such as red grapes, cranberries, tomatoes and onions, which are rich in antioxidants, will flush the body of harmful chemicals and aid in improving the immune system. A balanced diet will also assist in a critical part of childbirth recovery — energising the body. Also, once a mother keeps breastfeeding, the milk production remains perfect, and the associated benefits for both mother and child are more than the placenta can offer.
Solomon said going the natural route would not only ward off potential infections to mother and child, but other associated risks like contamination that may occur at the facilities where dehydration and packaging of placenta capsules take place.