Following the birth of a child, some parents might choose to keep part of the umbilical cord as a keepsake. In some instances, parents may want to also keep the placenta and take it home with them.
Keeping one’s placenta is not an unusual practice. Many believe the placenta is an important organ because it connects the mother's uterus to the baby's umbilical cord and is responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen to the fetus.
Some families bury it, or turn it into a keepsake - but the act of consuming the placenta has also gained popularity in recent years. In many cases, the mother who birthed the placenta is the only person who eats it, but a story told by Judie Love this week shows some would rather share it.
During an appearance on Loose Women on Wednesday 8 November, Love told her fellow panellists that she went to a christening where a buffet was provided, and attendees said there was a “special rice”.
She continued: “I went to get [some] - I shared out a bit of the rice but my friend next to me went-” Love mimicked her friend’s wide-eyed expression - “and I was like, ‘What?’ and she said, ‘There’s placenta in there’.
Stacey Solomon asked if there was a label on the rice to let guests know it contained placenta, but Love said there wasn’t. “I saw people talking about it but I didn’t know… Maybe I was being craven about it, I just saw buffet food and went, ‘Here we go!’ and I was going to eat placenta rice… I don’t want to be that special.”
While Love's story likely put some viewers off their lunch, the practice is not uncommon. But whether it has any benefits has not yet been proven.
Why do some people eat their placenta?
Eating placenta is known as placentophagy, and is practiced by many mammals - however, it is not commonplace among humans.
But the trend of humans eating placenta has grown since the 1970s, when it became popularised. Advocates claim it helps to reduce postpartum depression and bleeding.
According to a 2020 study by researchers at King’s College London, the most common reason given by women who have consumed their placenta was to avoid a negative post-partum period, particularly if their previous birth was followed up by post-natal depression.
Researcher Riley Botelle wrote in BioMed Central (BMC) blog that the rationale behind this is that the placenta could potentially boost a drop in pregnancy-related hormones. The drop in hormone levels can result in low mood and energy.
“The placenta produces a lot of those hormones and so re-ingesting it could replace some of them,” Botelle explained. “The theory is that taking placenta in the form of an encapsulated pill once or twice a day over a period of time can mitigate some of that loss and therefore reduce or treat depression, induce lactation, boost mood, reduce cramps, improve energy and so on.”
How do people eat their placenta?
There are two common ways people consume their placenta. The first is to cook and dry out the organ, before pulverising it into a powder and putting it into edible capsules to be ingested over a longer period of time.
The second method is to cook it. Some people do this by first washing the placenta to clean it, and then steaming, baking, sauteeing, or boiling it.
Others swear by placenta smoothies, which involves freezing the placenta in chunks and adding a chunk to a fruit or vegetable smoothie to consume it.
What is the science behind it?
Existing research has shown no evidence that eating placenta provides significant health benefits, apart from in very specific situations.
Nigel Denby, registered menopause dietitian and speaker at Pause Live! 2023, tells Yahoo UK: “Research suggests that in areas of extreme poverty eating the placenta may provide an additional protein supplement to the mother, as well as trace elements of amino acids and B vitamins.
“Around 1917 Hammett and McNeile first published that postpartum ingestion of a dehydrated product derived from the placenta resulted in an increase in protein and lactose in breast milk and there have been various studies since.
“However, at present there’s no definite proof that consuming placenta does provide the health benefits of easing postpartum depression, bleeding or anything else,” Denby continues.
A review by Northwestern University in the US, published in 2015, suggested that there is no scientific evidence that eating placenta can protect women against depression. Lead study author Cynthia Cole, a clinical psychologist at the university, said at the time: “Our sense is that women choosing placentophagy, who may otherwise be very careful about what they are putting into their bodies during pregnancy and nursing, are willing to ingest something without evidence of its benefits and, more importantly, of its potential risks to themselves and their nursing infants.
"There are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent. Women really don't know what they are ingesting."
Denby adds: “I would advise that anyone wishing to ensure their body is healthy after giving birth should focus on eating a healthy balanced diet which is rich in iron. Foods that are iron-rich include red meat, spinach, tofu.”
Read more about pregnancy nutrition:
Millie Mackintosh sparks debate about whether it is safe to eat seafood during pregnancy (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)
Pregnancy skin: How your complexion changes when you're expecting a baby (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)
Woman's unusual pregnancy craving sees her spend £3k on eating clay - but is it safe? (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)