Why do women ‘eat’ their placenta?
The subject of “eating” your placenta continues to spark countless news stories, and it’s one that is close to my heart.
Because, in fact, mums who enjoy the huge benefits of placenta encapsulation don’t actually “eat” their placenta at all – not if you're imagining a plate, knife and fork or a sandwich.
The placenta is actually taken in capsule form and there is so much more behind this than “eating” the placenta. I feel strongly about this for two reasons:
- The idea of “eating your placenta” conjures up images that could put many women off.
- The question, “why do people eat placenta” makes a serious, respected clinical process sound like a fad.
So you will never find me using the words “eat” or “eating” when it comes to placenta encapsulation. My work – which is carried out to the highest standards in the UK and comes after rigorous specialist training, certification and inspection – is to process the amazing nourishing powers of your placenta into capsule form.
This is then taken in the same manner as any other herbal or medical pill. And we don't talk about ‘eating’ Paracetamol tablets or vitamin supplements, do we?
“The benefits of eating your placenta”
So when I read about “the benefits of eating placenta” or I’m asked, “why do people eat their placenta”, I’m struck by the importance of using the right language when discussing subjects that are new, or that pregnant women may not know much about.
This applies to science in general, where it is vital to get the right balance between making a topic understandable, and “dumbing down” in a way that distorts the truth.
Placenta encapsulation is so much more than a fad. Clients talk about benefits from increasing breast milk to soothing nappy rash, to preventing baby blues and post-natal depression.
Choosing the right words
There is a much wider debate when it comes to use of language.
An example is how pregnant women are now encouraged to write a ‘birth preference’ instead of a ‘birth plan’. The reason is that few births go to ‘plan’, and that a ‘preference’ allows the woman to be in the right frame of mind in case things veer off from the ideal.
Midwives have also been advised that they can show more respect to mums by dropping “good girl” and “patient refused” in favour of “You’re doing really well, Emily” and “Emily declined.” The same advice in the British Medical Journal recommended replacing “big baby” with “healthy baby.”
In my view it’s all about fitting the right language to the occasion, and this applies to life in general rather than just in the birthing suite.
For example, it can feel insulting when we ask a friendly question only to be knocked back with a cold and over-formal reply. On the other hand, school-leavers are having to be taught that text-speak is the wrong approach when filling out a job application!
And, naming no names, but certain world leaders have a lot to learn about expressing themselves appropriately.
Scientific research on placenta remedies
But back to placentas.
William Ober, who wrote the seminal anthropological work on how humans have used the placenta throughout history, found that the placenta and cord have been used in many cultures for medicinal purposes. However, there is little evidence with humans of “eating your own placenta”, for which the scientific name is placentophagy, except when it correlated with an urgent need of specific nutrients postpartum.
There is a body of scientific research considering the benefits of the placenta.
Here’s an example: “Since the early 1900s an increasing body of evidence has shown that placenta tissues have clinical benefits in a wide range of wound repair and surgical applications.” This comes from research into the “therapeutic effects” of placenta tissue, published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and biotechnology.  The report also points out that: “Human placenta has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine for centuries.”
And here’s another example, from Midwifery Today: “Midwives are increasingly using placental fragments for haemorrhage control and are finding it works immediately … With the promising evidence that is emerging, both scientific and anecdotal, midwives should feel encouraged to use placenta. It may be the most natural, convenient and physiologic potential for haemorrhage control. By keeping good records of the outcomes, we will add to this growing body of evidence that proves there is power in placenta.”
I couldn't agree more.
Odent, M. 2014. “Placentophagy.” Midwifery Today 109: 17–18.