Whether it's popping pills like Kim and Kourtney or consuming it raw in a smoothie like actor Gaby Hoffman, eating placenta has been the latest alternative maternity trend to hit the mainstream. But in case you were wondering whether or not it's a good idea to follow suit, the latest research suggests it's best to sit this one out.
Not only does it put your child at risk (the CDC issued a health warning this summer), it appears the health benefits have been over-exaggerated. According to a study recently published in Women and Birth, new mothers who take placenta capsules show no significant improvement in maternal mood, mother-infant bonding, or fatigue.
The placenta develops during pregnancy to supply the fetus with nutrition and discard its waste. The theory goes that post-labor, the nutrients that have been passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy persist in the placenta and eating it raw helps the mother recover from childbirth. The practice has been gaining increasing popularity in recent years with proponents claiming that placenta pills can ease fatigue, prevent post-natal depression, and improve milk production.
Advocates also point out that humans are one of the relatively few species of mammal that don't partake in placentophagy (the scientific name for eating the placenta). While this might be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do the same. As Rebecca Baergen, a professor and Chief of Perinatal and Obstetric Pathology at Weill Cornell Medicine, pointed out in an interview with Scientific American, “there are a lot of other things that animals do that we don't do.”
Still, until now, there has been relatively little science that has looked into the effects – beneficial or not – of eating your placenta.
Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, monitored maternal mood, mother-infant bonding, and fatigue levels in 27 new mothers. Twelve volunteers were given placenta pills to take. The remaining 15 were given placebo pills.
Ultimately, there was no significant improvement in any of the categories measured, though the researchers did note very slight decreases in depressive symptoms in the placenta pill group, which could be investigated further. There were also small but noticeable changes in hormone concentrations.
“What we have uncovered are interesting areas for future exploration, such as small impacts on hormone levels for women taking placenta capsules, and small improvements in mood and fatigue in the placenta group,” Sharon Young, lead author of the study, explained in a statement.
It was a small study so it would be interesting to see whether these findings can be replicated on a larger scale, but while experts advise against the practice, and with pills costing upwards of $200, for now, it might be a trend to skip.