Fueled by stories on the Internet of women who say their placentas hold healing powers for postpartum depression and other post-baby problems, more Chicago women are weighing the value of eating their placenta after birth.
We turned to Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, MD, professor of family medicine at the Loyola University Health System and a family doctor who has delivered hundreds of babies, for some facts from a medical perspective.
- In examining the pro placentophagia blogs, “One thing that struck me over and over and over, both pro and con, I saw women saying ‘my placenta.'” The placenta is not part of a woman’s body. (It forms from the fertilized egg and grows into the uterus to become a filter for the growing baby.) “Psychologically, it might take on a different character when people realize it is fetal tissue, rather than maternal tissue.”
- It is not a natural process. If you think about mammals that do eat the placenta, it is part of the natural cleaning process, he says. “I think there is something different about human instinct. We do not have a natural instinct to lick off our babies.”
- The placenta is a filter, its job is to trap toxins and prevent them from reaching the baby. “It’s like eating a filter on your drain. It’s going to have things in it that you don’t really want to be consuming.” In addition, after delivery, bacteria from the birth canal and baby’s waste products coat the placenta.
- After delivery, the placenta rapidly becomes dead tissue. If you put steak on a counter, it is going to become infected and turn brown quickly. That is exactly what happens to a placenta, he says. If you are going to consume it, make sure to treat it like any other meat product: Refrigerated and cooked properly.
“I’m just not sure that it’s safe for people to eat a placenta, especially one that’s not prepared properly,” he says.
Bottom line: “I doubt you’d get anything that you couldn’t get from eating a well-balanced diet.”