The Current

Eating placenta offers no proven benefit to mother, says medical researcher

Despite a scarcity of research to support its claims of benefit and doctors warning against it, the practice of placentophagia — saving your placenta after birth and eating it — continues.
Despite what appears to be a growing demand for new mothers to ingest their placenta, a new study warns the supposed benefits are not only not proven but there are real risks to mother and baby. (Ari Jalal/Reuters)

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Despite a scarcity of research to support its claims of benefit and doctors warning against it, the practice of placentophagia — saving your placenta after birth and eating it — continues. 

The practice, which some mothers swear by, has also led to an industry of placenta preparers, like Meaghan Grant — a placenta-eating advocate and entrepreneur.

Grant, the owner of Toronto Family Doulas, says she began providing the service because of unmet demand. Her organization dehydrates and encapsulates the placenta in the mother's home. 

"We had a lot of clients who were looking to have the service done and at the time we weren't entirely happy with the options available to refer our clients to in the city. We felt it was really important that people know the placenta they are consuming is their own." 

Don't eat placenta, medical experts say

4 years ago
2:01
Medical experts are warning against eating placenta, citing a lack of evidence supporting its benefits in addition to the absence of regulations for it in Canada 2:01

So why are people consuming placenta?

"The anecdotal data — because we don't have scientific data — is that people feel like they recover faster from childbirth, some people feel their milk is more plentiful ... Other people feel their mood is more stable," Grant said. 

However, her organization is careful to inform their clients that this is not a cure or preventative measure for postpartum depression — "this is just something they can try," she said.

There is no proven benefit [from placenta] from an objective point of view- Alex Farr

"There is no proven benefit [from placenta] from an objective point of view that you can evaluate in any study," says Dr. Alex Farr, assistant professor and researcher at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

"If you ask patients who have done that, they have ... positive attitude for any kind of positive effect because they are a very separated group of women who want to eat their placenta. So it's very likely that these women would not like to tell the doctor or their doula or their midwife that it didn't make sense."

Farr, who authored a recent study on placenta consumption, says that experts have to "rely on just anecdotal data ... and women in these surveys had a very high placebo effect and a very high bias so it's completely unclear" if there are benefits.

In this Sept. 13, 2013, photo, Laura Curtis of Placentawise in Lindon, Utah, prepares a placenta for a client that will be turned into capsules as a supplement for new mothers. (Francisco Kjolseth/Associated Press/The Salt Lake Tribune)

"We found that there was recently one study performed where the placenta pills were analyzed for their rate of iron, and women who took the pills did not have any higher rate or significantly higher rate of iron ... than those who took the placebo. So one would guess that at least that would be an higher rate of iron in women who eat the placenta because  it's a very bloody organ, but even that is not the case."

He says it makes more sense to simply take vitamin supplements and that the practice may actually pose risks to the child.

"Our standpoint is that we want to vote against placentophagia because we can't ensure that there is not a significant risk of transmitted infections or anything else."

Listen to the full conversation above.

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