scorecardI didn't know whether to eat my placenta at birth. After talking to doctors and doulas, I decided not to.
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I didn't know whether to eat my placenta at birth. After talking to doctors and doulas, I decided not to.

Jen Glantz   

I didn't know whether to eat my placenta at birth. After talking to doctors and doulas, I decided not to.
LifeScience3 min read
  • Eating your own placenta is marketed to come with benefits such as increased milk production.
  • However, there is no scientific evidence that supports these claims.

When I was eight months pregnant, I decided to spend quality time writing down a comprehensive birth plan. While so many of my friends who were already moms told me that there are many unknowns when it comes to labor and delivery, still having a birth plan that outlines key decisions you can make, before and after the baby is born, will make the process easier.

While researching what to add to my plan, I stumbled upon something I had never heard about before: placenta encapsulation.

According to Alan Lindemann, an obstetrician, the placenta is the organ linking the baby and the mother while the baby is in utero. It provides nutrition to the baby, including oxygen, vitamins, and other nutrients, and it removes waste from the baby's body.

"Encapsulating a placenta means the placenta is processed, dried, and packaged in capsules mothers can then take like any oral medication," Lindemann told Insider.

To figure out whether this was something I wanted to do, I asked ob-gyns and doulas to share more information with me, so I could decide and update my birth plan around what to do with my placenta after the baby is born. Here's what they said.

Why people encapsulate their placentas

When I dove into more research about this, there seemed to be several conflicting viewpoints around placenta encapsulation.

Staci Tanouye, an ob-gyn, said that some believe that the placenta could provide the pregnant person with certain nutrients like iron or hormones that might help with various things during the postpartum period. "They are often marketed with claims such as increased milk production, decrease in postpartum depression, or improvement of anemia," she said.

When I spoke to Carly Lewis, a trained doula and placenta specialist, she stressed that eating the placenta is good for a person to do, listing benefits that include ingesting vitamins — like iron, B6, E — ingesting stem cells to help heal the body, and releasing oxytocin and a corticotropin-releasing hormone that reduces stress levels.

Kelly Culwell, an ob-gyn, told me that there are no scientifically proven benefits of eating the placenta after birth.

"Studies have shown that there are not enough placental nutrients or hormones retained after placenta encapsulation to be potentially helpful to the mother postpartum," Culwell said.

There are potential risks

Even without strong scientific evidence that eating your own placenta guarantees specific benefits, I still found myself leaning toward wanting to do this after my baby was born. However, my mind changed quite a bit after I learned more about the risks.

Lindemann shared that, according to the Mayo Clinic, mothers should not eat any part of the placenta for any reason because the processing does not completely eliminate bacteria or viruses that may be in the placenta and may be harmful to the mother or baby. Culwell shared that eating the placenta after birth has been associated with recurrent sepsis for both mothers that eat the placenta and their babies who are breastfeeding.

"It is never recommended by healthcare providers. It is particularly dangerous in the case of Group B Strep colonization or infection during pregnancy or postpartum," Culwell said.

I chose not to eat my own placenta

The more I talked to doctors, the more I was leaning toward not doing it.

Amir Marashi, another ob-gyn, said that since placenta encapsulation isn't FDA-approved or recommended by the medical community, a person should make the decision to encapsulate if they think the theoretical benefits, which he stated are unproven, outweigh the risks, which he believes are many.

If you're still deciding that you want to do this, Lewis said to have a conversation with your local placenta specialist about the different remedies that they offer. "Let your birth team know about your decision to encapsulate so that they can treat the placenta correctly after birth," she said. "Also, check with your doctor if you are taking any medication."

After learning more, I decided to not add placenta encapsulation to my birth plan. However, I did wonder what would happen to my placenta after giving birth.

Culwell said that it depends.

"Depending on the circumstances of a person's pregnancy and/or delivery, the placenta might be sent for further study in the pathology lab to evaluate for any problems with the placenta," she said. "In some situations, there may be an opportunity to donate your placenta for clinical research. Otherwise, it is disposed of safely with other medical tissue."