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After three pregnancies and repeated bouts of postpartum depression, Natasha Longridge decided to try something different when her fourth baby was born: She ate her placenta. She’d read that ingesting the organ is thought to ease the baby blues, so with help from her midwife, she learned how to dehydrate and encapsulate it herself. Soon after delivery, she began swallowing four placenta pills a day. The result? “I’m a believer,” says Longridge, who lives in Spruce Grove, Alta. Her fourth postpartum experience was markedly easier than the previous ones, she says. Today, Longridge runs a home-based placenta encapsulation business.
You spend nine months thinking about delivering your baby. But if you’re like many women, you haven’t given a moment’s thought to your placenta. The Frisbee-size gelatinous organ that sustains life inside the womb is delivered minutes after the baby arrives and is typically considered medical waste. But maybe it shouldn’t be. A growing number of women (including Kim Kardashian) are eating their placentas. Should you?
Advocates of the practice, called placentophagy, say it boosts energy, increases milk production and helps with postpartum depression. “Anything that could help—why wouldn’t you do it?” says Alex Cullen, a first-time mom in Victoria, BC, who began taking four to six placenta pills a day after her son was born last May. Cullen believes the pills kept postpartum depression at bay. She took a break from them about a month after delivery, but when she started feeling exhausted by the daily routine, she resumed and says she felt better. “It’s almost like it alleviates that overwhelming feeling,” she says.
But perhaps the pills have a placebo effect, because there’s no scientific proof that eating your placenta offers any health benefits. “In the woman’s body, the placenta is rich with hormones,” says Togas Tulandi, interim chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at McGill University in Montreal. But once it’s outside the body, he says, very little is known about the organ’s powers. “There is no study showing this is effective.”
Indeed, research out of Northwestern University reviewed 10 studies related to placenta consumption and found nothing to support the health claims. And in late 2018, Health Canada released a warning that consuming a placenta can be risky and that there's insufficient evidence of any health benefits.
The cost for this pseudoscience? Around $150 to $250, which buys you about 150 pills.
Still, the practice is growing. “At the beginning, it was mostly the crunchier clients,” says Rean Cross, a Toronto-based placenta encapsulator. “Now it’s bankers, lawyers, doctors, nurses.” Cross says her business has grown from about one client a month to 12 to 20 per month in the past couple of years.
Jenny Emerson, a midwife in Kelowna, BC, says she’s seen sufficient anecdotal evidence to convince her that placenta pills help some women cope with fatigue, milk production and the roller coaster of hormones after their babies are born. But her endorsement comes with a caveat. “Placenta encapsulation is one tool, but not something to rely on exclusively,” she says, noting that women who are experiencing postpartum depression should seek professional help.
She adds that if you’re serious about consuming your placenta, you should find someone who is experienced. Cross is a certified placenta encapsulator, trained in safely handling and processing placentas. The practice, however, remains unregulated.
Despite the lack of scientific proof, Cullen is convinced that eating her placenta is beneficial. “It was in me—it’s all natural,” she says. “We don’t give women’s bodies enough credit to support ourselves.”
Did you know? If you want to keep your placenta—to eat it, plant it in the garden, create art with it or whatever else (we’re not judging)—let your midwife or obstetrician know. Most hospitals will release it to you without a fuss. After delivery, a nurse will place it in a clean plastic bag or bucket. Some hospitals will refrigerate it until you go home, but others won’t, so bring a cooler. You’ll need one for the ride home anyway.