She Ate Her Placenta To Prevent PPD And This Is What Happened
Post-partum depression (PPD) is a very real and very intimidating reality staring expectant mothers in the face during what should be an extremely joyful period. The birth of a child, whether the first or the fifth, is an amazing experience, but for many mothers, this means a long road through anything from baby blues to full blown PPD. For many, the thought of dealing with crippling depression while adjusting to a new baby is off-putting, as it should be. That’s why more and more new mothers are looking to what is touted as a miracle cure by midwives, doulas, and other mothers: eating one’s placenta. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Placentophagy, or the act of eating the placenta, isn’t a new phenomenon: indeed, ingestion of the placenta has been a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine as far back as the sixteenth century, though it’s unclear if it was the mother who received the treatment. It’s easy to see why people believe the practice is safe, even healthy; after all, most mammals eat the afterbirth from their young. Studies have shown that rats who consume their placenta have a higher pain tolerance during the birthing process. Unfortunately, this is one of the few studies conducted on the topic, and it doesn’t really address the issue at hand: most expectant mothers aren’t planning to eat their placenta during birth, even if circumstances make that possible.
Regarding human placentophagy, research is limited. One survey administered by medical anthropologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of South Florida found that about 75 percent of respondents reported benefits including improved lactation, increased energy, and improved mood, but it is unclear if this was a placebo effect or a true outcome of eating the placenta.
Mothers who have been through the process report mixed results.
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While some find that they recover faster, produce more milk, have an easier time in general breastfeeding, and experience a more positive mood, others find that consuming the placenta does nothing, possibly even producing harmful effects. Nancy Redd, author, penned a piece published in the New York Times titled “I Regret Eating My Placenta.” Therein she chronicles her hellish experience with placental pills, a way of ingesting the placenta in which it is ground up and encapsulated. She received these pills from a celebrity placenta processor— pills which, she writes, caused her to first feel “jittery and weird,” before sending her into “tabloid-worthy meltdown mode, a frightening phase filled with tears and rage” for several days. She states this came about after taking as few as eight placental pills, occurring just two days after beginning the regimen. Redd says that, in hindsight, she has many concerns with the process, which is as yet unregulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to make a statement regarding the practice, citing lack of scientific evidence.
Yet another mother, blogger Brook Bolen, reported an experience in direct contradiction with purported benefits of placentophagy. Claims that mothers who suffered from post-partum depression with their first child were perfectly healthy with subsequent children due to consumption of the placenta abounded, but Bolen found the opposite to be true: despite taking placental pills, she developed crippling PPD and depression. She would eventually seek medical treatment, finding relief in anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicines prescribed by her doctor.
With so many conflicting, and anecdotal, records, and so little scientific research, it’s difficult to say if placentophagy is right for everyone. Expectant mothers should consult their doctors for advice determining their course of action, and pay close attention to their symptoms before, during, and after consuming the placenta in any form.