Bit of a WARNING: Though I’m not too graphic, I’m discussing something that makes many a tummy turn. Might want to put down that breakfast for a moment!
One of the hazards of natural living: you probably know someone who ate the placenta.
Officially, it’s called placentophagy: the act of mammals eating their own placenta after giving birth. Even herbivore mammals and our cousins, the gorillas.
Even if you don’t know someone who did this, you may have at least seen the blog story from MomLogic.com about twin sisters Kathy and Chrissy who shared a placenta feast (including leftovers). To your considerable gag reflex.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think these women necessarily deserve all the hatin’ they’re getting. I don’t believe they are “cannibals” or “vampires” or some of the other nasty comments following the blog, though the collective “ICK!” of the commentators was funny.
I agree with some of the more positive thoughts: If you eat meat and are so far removed from your food, why are you disgusted by this nutrient-rich “meal”? As someone rightly pointed out, this is the only “meat” that comes from life, not death.
Personally? I wouldn’t do it. Not ’til I grow a tail. If you consider yourself crunchy but can’t stomach the placenta eatin’, let’s explore some other options, shall we?
Let me first say this: checking out the placenta was one of the coolest anatomy lessons I’ve ever received outside of private affairs. After my second birth, the nurse walked us through the parts of the placenta. After the initial polite, “No thank you,” we gave in and were quite impressed.
This is what nourished you, Baby E. This was part of the life force between us. This is one of the ways our bodies were entwined.
Wow. No wonder the placenta is revered in some cultures. (But I’m still not biting.) If you, too, want to cherish this life force, here are a few non-dietary ideas:
Plant it. The most common non-disposal use for placentas. When I was growing up, my placenta was in our deep freezer, along with that of my sister. They now reside in my mom’s backyard under a couple of trees. For Baby E and Little L? Yep, theirs are up in the ‘burbs, too, waiting to live in the earth with Mama’s. We’ll bring Illinois-friendly Virginia trees for Nonnie’s backyard, the place of my childhood. It’s a symbolic life force thing.
Capsule it. Some say that taking afterbirth pills can help with postpartum depression, though the other argument says that those sweet hormones are already in the new mama’s blood. At any rate, pills made of placenta is hardly the worst thing you’d find on drugstore shelves!
If this idea appeals to you, here’s the how-to:
- Cook the placenta. (You have to cook it before you dry it.) Add any homeopathics that might appeal to you, especially those for breastfeeding like fennugreek and blessed thistle. One suggestion I found said that if you cook it in the membrane, it will be easier to “handle” overall.
- Cut in thin strips, jerky-like. (Is this sounding too much like food now?)
- Cook at a low heat, about 200 or 250 degrees, for several hours…until crumbly.
- Grind in coffee grinder or food processor, whichever powders better for you.
- Pop in gel capsules (Google it; I found many sources).
- Dose up! Recommendations vary from 2-4 per day, but general widsom says that you can take as many as makes you feel good.
For the Artsy Types: Placenta Prints. Some cast their bellies, others make placenta prints. Use natural paints and high-quality paper (read: long-lasting and frame-friendly, if desired) and make something abstract and wonderful with that “second child”.
A note on handling the hospital when “collecting” your placenta: Both my labors were hospital births, and I have both placentas. Luckily, there must be enough people around here with placenta gardens and compost piles, because the nurses were completely amicable. But some places haven’t been so friendly to mamas who want the lovely parting gift. Before your birth, make a note of your placenta plans on your birth plan. Tell your care practitioner. And make sure that your birth partner and/or doula are ready to reiterate your wishes after the birth, when baby is skin-to-skin. (I had awesome labors and could articulate it myself.)
And for those of you who are still interested in placentophagia. To each her own, of course! I think that part of the problem with Chrissy and Kathy’s story was that their “food” looked really freakin’ gross. Red sauce; really guys?! Most of the placenta recipes I’ve heard of involved treating the “meat” like you would animal liver, though perhaps mammal and not foie gras.
Check out these other sources for recipes, but I really suggest going for the stir-fry or stew or roast method, and not “decorating” it with red sauce. Or if you do, maybe don’t post the pics on blogs and Facebook?
Image: Wikimedia Commons. Not the pics from Kathy and Chrissy’s meal, which you can find here.
It’s very biologically normal to eat your placenta after giving birth, especially if it was a particularly difficult birth or if there was a significant amount of blood loss or if the mom struggled with anemia.
Personally I didn’t partake (though I would of had I bled) b/c we had a lotus birth, where we kept the baby attached to the placenta until it fell off on it’s own.
Cate Nelson says
The thing is, there is no data on placentophagy for humans. Though it have been revered in some cultures, it is quite rare until recent “acceptance” in certain circles.
Anemia, I could *maybe* understand. For me, it would have to be if I were away from “civilization” and had just given birth with nothing else to sustain me. I could also understand searing a sirloin and eating some greens. Those are what my body craved, perhaps because of the ancient mammalian tradition. As far as human tradition goes, it is such a rare case it’s not worth us citing as good reasons to continue to perform this ritual. Most Westerners, almost without exception, are far removed from this past.
And for the sisters who cooked it up, I stick by my disgust at what they prepared. I wouldn’t eat that no matter what meat it was. It was like Quiznos/an Italian buffet gone bad. Not healthy or appetizing at all.
Alina Hensley says
I’m from New York and moved to Arizona, which is where my daughter was born. I watched a baby saguaro grow beside our front patio- sprouted when I found out I was pregnant and just kept growing. About two months ago we found out we would need to relocate back to New York, and I knew I couldn’t take that cactus with me, so I uprooted it and planted it with her placenta in the garden/chicken yard of her Godfather’s family’s little farm (because she, now two and a half, loved feeding those chickens so much!) I’m glad that they’re still ‘in the family’ and no matter what happens or where we end up, I know they’ll always be somewhere we loved with people who loved us!
Cate Nelson says
Alina, that is a beautiful story! It does mean a lot having it somewhere special, doesn’t it?
My sister and I planted ours when we were kids, though we were entirely grossed out and told no one for a while. 😉 Kids!
The boys’ are going to be planted near mine.
“The thing is, there is no data on placentophagy for humans.” The thing is, you’re wrong.
“Many people of the world have known the secret power of the placenta as a medicinal supplement. Among the Chinese and Vietnamese, it is a customary practice to prepare the placenta for consumption by the mother. The placenta is thought to be rich in nutrients that the mother needs to recover more readily from childbirth. In Italy, women have been known to eat parts of the placenta to help with lactation. Hungarian women bite the placenta to expedite the completion of labor. And knowledgeable midwives in this country have their birth mothers take bites of raw placenta to help stop hemorrhaging, due to its beneficial oxytocin content.” from: Placenta for Healing by Jodi Selander
Also, it’s important to note that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently conducting studies on placentophagy and Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using placenta as food medicine for thousands of years.
To be more specific, here’s some data one could access if she looks for it:
1. Baby blues – postpartum depression attributed to low levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone after placenta is gone; Discover; Dec 1995.
2. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica.
3. Placenta as a Lactagogon; Gynaecologia 138: 617-627, 1954.
4. Placenta ingestion by rats enhances δ- and κ-opioid antinociception, but suppresses μ-opioid antinociception; DiPirro, J.M. and Kristal M.B., Brain Research