Eating your own placenta after giving birth is definitely not for everyone. But for tons of new moms who’ve gotten over the “ewww” factor (most consume it in pill form, not straight from the source), the practice has become increasingly common over the past few years.
Celebs like Kim Kardashian, January Jones, Alicia Silverstone, and Mayim Bialik proudly tout its benefits, claiming that consuming placenta is like taking a little “happy pill” that makes you feel balanced and refreshed in body and mind. And even if you didn’t personally do it, you probably know at least one mom who did, and is quick to share how much better their postpartum was because of it.
Very little research has been done about placenta consumption in term of its safety or effectiveness, however. One pretty scary report came out this summer from the CDC warning moms not to consume their placenta after a newborn contracted a bacterial infection from its mother who had eaten her placenta. Beyond that, there hasn’t been much out there about the practice.
That may be changing, however, with the release of a new study that looked at the correlation between placenta consumption and maternal mood. The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Nevada, was published in the November 23 issue of Women and Birth. And hold onto your hats, because what the researchers found might surprise you, especially if you’re one of the women convinced that your placenta pills worked wonders for you.
Here’s the scoop: The research team followed 27 women during postpartum. Twelve of them consumed placenta pills, and 15 took a placebo. The team tested the efficacy of the pills to stave off the “baby blues” as well as the moms’ general depressive states. In terms of maternal mood, bonding, and fatigue, they found no discernible differences between the moms who consumed their placentas and the mother who consumed the placebos.
There was one noticeable difference between the two groups, though: The placenta-consuming group did have detectable changes in hormone concentrations when their blood was drawn for testing. So, for all the placenta pill supporters out there, there is that one sliver of potentially good news.
Professor Daniel Benyshek, senior author of the study, agrees with the assessment that the study doesn’t rule out any benefits whatsoever for new moms.
“Placentophagy supporters may point to the fact that we did see evidence that many of the hormones detected in the placenta capsules were modestly elevated in the placenta group moms,” Benyshek said in a press release about the study.
Still, Benyshek can’t deny that the study does suggest that placenta consumption might not be all it’s cracked up to be, especially when looking at as a cure-all or preventative measure for postpartum mood disorders.
“[O]ur results might be seen as proof that placentophagy [placenta consumption] doesn’t ‘really work’ because we did not find the type of clear, robust differences in maternal hormone levels or postpartum mood between the placenta group and placebo group that these types of studies are designed to detect,” he said.
Plenty of moms who’ve consumed their placentas and seen amazing results are begging to differ with the study’s results, however.
Pam, a mom of two from Colorado, tells Babble that taking her placenta pills seemed to have a significant effect on her mood postpartum — and for many months to come.
“I took placenta pills right after my daughter was born and then again when she was about eight months old and I was starting to wean her,” Pam shares. “As I started to drop feedings, I noticed that I had PMS-like symptoms; unexplained sadness, crying for no reason, a blah mood that even my go-to, a long run, couldn’t touch. When I started taking my placenta pills again, my mood improved.”
Dina, a mom of a now 10-year-old from Louisiana, tells Babble that she remembers thinking the pills helped her at the time, and would do it again. Still, looking back, she wonders if perhaps she was experiencing a kind of placebo effect herself.
“I believed it was going to help — and a few days in, when things were tough and I wondered if I was starting to get sad, I remember thinking, ‘I ate my placenta! I’m not getting baby blues,’” Dina tells Babble. “I never did get the baby blues or PPD, but who knows if it really helped. I think the mind is powerful enough to run with the placebo, though. It felt very primitive, and I think it’s just a part of the process I didn’t want to miss out on.”
As for the researchers at the University of Nevada, they aren’t ready to make a huge proclamation either way about placental consumption. Although their research seems to point to little correlation between the pills and maternal mood improvement, they believe more research needs to be done on the matter — and they hope their study is just the beginning of better understanding this fascinating and sometimes controversial subject.
“While the study doesn’t provide firm support for or against the claims about the benefits of placentophagy, it does shed light on this much debated topic by providing the first results from a clinical trial,” Dr. Sharon Young, lead author of the study, said in the press release. “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.”