I Ate My Placenta After Child Birth. Here’s What Happened.
The centuries-old practice could be harmful to your health, but some women say it's life-changing.
Forty-seven-year-old Michelle Preisler, a packaging engineer in Seagrove, North Carolina, suffered from postpartum depression and lethargy after the birth of her first child. Anxious to avoid it with her second child, she opted for a more holistic approach and brought in a doula, who suggested she encapsulate her placenta.
A traumatic birth the first time around, coupled with docs telling her it could even be more complicated this time, prompted her to follow the doula’s advice. “The process was fascinating. Immediately after birth, my placenta was put on ice. Three days later, the placental encapsulation specialist came into my home, sanitized my kitchen, boiled and sliced up my placenta, dehydrated it, and then ground it up into capsules,” she explains. “She also made me a tincture by soaking a piece of my cooked placenta in 100-proof alcohol to drop into tea, water or wine for when I was feeling anxious or weepy. It was amazing.”
Preisler is among a group of women who believe that placentophagy — or the process of consuming the maternal placenta — can offer all sorts of benefits, like quelling postpartum depression, reducing post-birth bleeding, boosting iron supply, and improving mood, energy, and milk supply. Women ingest their placenta — an organ that nourishes a growing fetus by exchanging nutrients and oxygen and filtering waste products through the umbilical cord — by having it steamed, dehydrated, and put into a capsule, as Preisler did, or by eating it raw, cooked, or in smoothies.
“Taking placenta capsules really worked for me,” she says. “It made my milk come in quicker and stopped a lot of my postpartum depression. It just helped me feel like myself again.”
In the past decade, celebs extolling the virtues of eating your placenta have popularized the idea. In a 2013 Keeping Up with the Kardashians episode, Kourtney Kardashian famously cooked up her placenta on national TV, and her sister Kim followed suit by consuming her placenta in pill form in 2015. Other celeb moms Hillary Duff, Katherine Heigl, Mandy Moore, Elle King, and January Jones have put down this nutrient-packed organ in some way, shape, or form.
While ingesting afterbirth is fairly widespread among mammals, humans seem to be one of the exceptions, and the origins of the practice for humans are a bit hazy. There are theoretical discussions of it in Western medical journals dating back to 1902, and there is mention of the placenta being used to treat certain ailments, like infertility or liver problems, in a traditional Chinese medicine text from 1583, but scholars have not found evidence of human mothers eating their placenta that far back. What we do know is that the practice was popularized in the U.S., at least, during a revival of midwife-assisted home births in the 1970s.
Currently, there is no scientific evidence demonstrating that this practice has health benefits. And these preparation methods, according to the Mayo Clinic, don’t wholly destroy bacteria and viruses that the placenta could contain, so ingesting them could be harmful.
Despite the potential downsides, more women seem to be embracing the practice, particularly those who distrust or have had negative experiences with Western medicine. A 2006 paper in The Journal of Perinatal Education found that “postpartum maternal health care is a neglected aspect of women’s health care.” And a 2019 study in Reproductive Health of 2,138 participants in the U.S. found that one in six women reported experiencing one or more types of mistreatment, including being shouted, being ignored, or receiving no response to requests for help.
Perhaps, it’s unsurprising that some mothers have turned away from conventional medical institutions and towards alternative medicine where practitioners make them feel heard. Preisler says this was the case with her. “My OB/GYN said I’d need to have a C-section the second time due to having tearing and a lengthy healing process with my first child, but I went to a midwife who confirmed I could successfully give birth vaginally.”
Carrie Murphy, a writer and doula from Austin, Texas, estimates she encapsulated more than 120 placentas over four years when she started her practice Carrie Murphy Doula in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One placenta will get you around 100-200 (or in Preisler’s case, 300) capsules, which you typically take 2-3 daily under the guidance of a doula.
“I decided to start doing this simply because my clients were asking for it,” shares Murphy. “Parents have anecdotally reported great results in mood and energy, although it’s important to note that there is little, if any, scientific evidence for the practice. Effects that people feel may actually be due to a placebo effect.”
Women have been seeking out the practice from doulas like Murphy and sharing their experiences on social media. “I opted to do this with my second pregnancy after seeing other moms talking about it on Facebook while I was pregnant, so I was able to compare the differences as I didn’t eat my placenta for my first,” explains 31-year-old Marissa Pressey, a publicist in San Diego, Calif. “I did notice my milk supply increased slightly, and my postpartum anxiety and depression was nowhere near comparable to the first time.”
Preisler agrees. “There was such a difference in the way I felt that my husband even noticed,” she tells HelloGiggles. “He saw me struggle after my first pregnancy to try to return to a normal range of emotions. It was the best money I ever spent.”
Placentophagy has even been commercialized. Ancestral Supplements, endorsed by TV personality Bear Grylls, offers grass-fed placenta capsules in its line of supplements, which also includes grass-fed beef prostate and grass-fed beef brain. “It turns out mammalian-specific peptides and enzymes are bio-identical to one another,” states the brand’s marketing materials.
As the practice has become more mainstream, the medical community has offered words of caution about it. In 2015, researchers at the Northwestern University School of Medicine published a study in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health that said, based on research from 10 previous studies, there is no data validating claims that eating a maternal placenta has any benefits to your health. In a 2018 New York Times article called “Please Don’t Eat Your Placenta,” OB/GYN Jen Gunter, M.D., speaks of the “general rule it’s best not to eat something that is potentially teeming with bacteria, many of which may be pathogenic (meaning they can cause disease).”
But this hasn’t stopped proponents of placentophagy. Jordan Ford, a dad in New York who worked as a pre and postnatal athletic trainer in his early 20s, tells HelloGiggles his wife supplemented her protein shakes with her placenta and wouldn’t think twice about doing it again. “All mammals on earth eat their placentas,” says Ford. “And anyone who thinks it’s gross is simply ignorant.”