So let’s go ahead and get it out there: I ate my placenta.
I hadn’t planned to. I didn’t after I had my first baby. I was aware vaguely that some people did it, but it just seemed gross. While I was pregnant with my second, though, a friend told me how she had encapsulated her placenta and found it helped her recover physically from the birth and brightened her postpartum mood. Considering the difficult time I had after my first was born, my interest was piqued. At worst, I figured I’d get an interesting story out of it, so I decided to give it a shot.
Placenta-eating, otherwise known as placentophagy – practically unheard of in our mothers’ time – has a growing number of advocates. Though there’s a dearth of scientific evidence supporting its benefits, there’s plenty of anecdotal proof that it may help to lessen the baby blues, speed up healing time for vaginal and surgical births, increase energy levels, boost breast milk production, and even prevent postpartum mood swings. The idea is that the estrogen-, progesterone-, and iron-imbued placenta levels out fluctuating hormones and helps to replace lost iron, contributing to faster healing, increased milk supply, and a better mood.
Detractors, on the other hand, claim that it doesn’t do anything aside from providing a possible placebo effect. And there’s that whole eating a human organ thing. But nearly all mammals do it, even herbivores! (Though for the record, I’d never recommend you do something solely on the basis that “animals do it.”) Oh, and sure, unlike cows and bears that eat their placentas for a little extra nutrition or to hide the evidence of a recent birth from predators, I can run to the butcher if I need some postpartum protein. And I’m certainly not worried about predation, an occasional escaped zoo animal notwithstanding. So why eat the placenta?
Well, it’s pretty simple: I didn’t want to experience postpartum depression again. So, why not?
After the birth of our second child, we put the placenta in a 2-quart plastic bucket, wrapped it in several plastic bags, and stashed it in a hospital fridge. (It’s important to note that each state and hospital have differing laws regarding placenta release, so discuss options with your doctor or midwife well beforehand.) My husband took it home later that night and put it straight into our freezer since we weren’t sure when we’d have time to prepare it. Refrigerated placentas can be encapsulated or eaten up to 48 hours after birth, otherwise they should be carefully frozen and can then be safely stored for up to 6 months.
Once you get it home, there are a couple of options for consuming your placenta: you can cook it up and eat it in one go or encapsulate it. I’m a little squeamish about organ meats in general, so I decided to go with encapsulation, which also adds a comforting level of abstraction to the experience. If you don’t feel up to encapsulating yourself, you can hire a professional placenta encapsulator who will come to your house and do it for you. Since my husband and I tend toward DIY, we opted to do it ourselves.
Although I had been nervous about butchering and cooking the placenta, it turned out I didn’t need to be; my husband did it for me. He compared it to chopping liver, which is also what it smelled like as it steamed. He then sliced the steamed placenta into thin strips and placed them on a baking sheet in a low-heat oven to dry out for many hours. Once we had placenta jerky, I took over – pulverizing it in the food processor and then filling individual capsules (you can buy these at your pharmacy or a health food store). With the placenta now in this highly processed form, I no longer felt like I was preparing a human organ for consumption, which made it all much more palatable. I ended up with about 150 capsules that lasted about 2 months.
To my surprise, I didn’t experience mood swings and I had more energy while taking the pills. Though I don’t have a double-blind, peer-reviewed study to back up my claim, I feel confident that placenta-eating made those first few postpartum weeks easier. Despite the caveats – my previous birth was a C-section and this one wasn’t, so the healing process was much easier and, of course, I’m a more experienced parent now – this skeptic has become a believer.
Placenta encapsulation certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you can do something simple to have a better postpartum experience, and lessen the often debilitating blues that can accompany the birth of a new baby, I’d say it’s worth a try.