I’m not going to tell you what to do with your baby’s placenta after birth. If the doctor lets you have it, and you would like to encapsulate it, sauté it, or even ink it to make placenta prints, that is your decision to make. But you should at least know whether scientists have found any health benefits to consuming it.
They haven’t yet – not for you, a human, at least.
It’s true that lots of animals eat placenta, the organ responsible for transferring nutrients between a foetus and its mother, after giving birth. That includes rodents, larger carnivores, and even wild chimpanzees. It’s not clear why they do it. Some think perhaps the animals do so for a nutrition boost, pain-relieving purposes, or to avoid predators smelling the afterbirth.
But there are also animals that don’t eat their placentas, including us, humans. Just because some behaviour provides benefits in a non-human animal doesn’t mean it will be good for humans. And as far as human science goes, there’s nothing proving that eating placenta will provide any medical benefit.
Still, many wellness bloggers advocate for consuming placenta, claiming it might help prevent postpartum depression, promote lactation, or a slew of other reasons. Some people offer paid services to help encapsulate the placenta.
Most recently, a small study at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found slight changes in salivary hormone concentration in women who took placental pills. They didn’t notice health benefits. But they didn’t really set out to study that.
One 2015 study from Northwestern University collected lots of data from previously published research. The authors found that there just isn’t enough solid research on placenta eating to make any conclusions in humans. Any benefits could very likely be from the placebo effect, but maybe not. “We conclude that the animal and human data strongly support the need for more precise evaluation of the benefit, if any, of placentophagy practices in human patients,” they wrote.
So the truth about eating placenta is that it’s understudied, and scientists have more work to do before you should feel confident in a recommendation to eat your afterbirth. What scientists do know is that placentas are not sterile, and have been found to contain toxic heavy metals like lead and mercury.
I happen to know someone who ate placenta osso bucco and enjoyed it very much. But anyone who tells you that placenta eating will offer a true benefit to humans is not basing their claims in science — and they might be trying to sell you something.