What is placentophagy, and why should I consider it?
Placentophagy is the act of eating your placenta. Although it sounds a little daunting and perhaps objectionable, it can be beneficial in many ways and for that reason, should be strongly considered by any pregnant mother! For instance, it has the capacity to help with lactation, postpartum depression, and can even help increase energy and promote healing. The levels of estradiol and estriol (the primary estrogens of pregnancy) as well as progesterone in a woman’s system drop precipitously after birth, reaching pre-pregnancy levels by day five postpartum. Ingesting the placenta can help restore and balance some of these hormones in order to help them slowly decrease rather than drop off more abruptly and have negative effects on the mother. Some of the currently known hormones, vitamins and minerals in placental tissue are as follows:
Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and Cortisol, which are stress relieving hormones that can help minimize symptoms of depression
Progesterone, which has an MAO-inhibiting effect during pregnancy, having a similar impact as some anti-anxiety medications. It can also help relieve depressive symptoms and help the mother feel “emotionally well”
Estrogens (estrone, estradiol and estriol), which are necessary for brain chemical balance. They also have a direct impact on serotonin, the “feel good hormone.” Low estrogen can contribute to depressive symptoms and/or anxiety as well
Endorphins, the “feel good” transmitters that can help reduce pain. By increasing estradiol and progesterone, the level of endorphins is also increased
Thyroid-Releasing hormone (TRH), thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins and ultimately Thyroxine (T4), which can aid with milk production and increase mood. There is a link between low thyroid levels and poor milk supply, and these low thyroid levels (aka hypothyroidism) have also been shown to induce depressive symptoms in women
Oxytocin, the “love” or “bonding” hormone; this hormone can help the mother bond with her baby and aids in the mother’s maternal response. It typically enhances feelings of optimism, trust, mastery and self-esteem, can help reduce depression and anxiety, stimulates uterine contractions (after the birth, this can help the uterus get back to its original size before pregnancy, which reduces bleeding), lowers blood pressure, and improves gut motility and decreases intestinal inflammation
Prolactin and Human Placental Lactagon (hPL), which stimulate the production of breastmilk and can decrease lipid storage (in other words, reduce weight)
Luteinizing hormone (LH), which increases estrogen production and helps regulate the menstrual cycle
Human Chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which can promote fat loss and muscle storage
Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF), which helps regulate pain and influences maternal behavior
Iron, which can help reduce fatigue
Vitamin B6, which aids in retaining healthy hair, skin, liver, and eyes and is also naturally used to combat depression
There are various approaches to placentophagy; for example, you can find someone to create a tincture with your placenta, encapsulate it into pills that you take daily/as needed, you can eat your placenta raw, or you can use it in cooking, smoothies, etc. Although there is not a lot of research supporting placentophagy, many midwives or other women’s health professionals swear by it and encourage it, especially among women with a history of depression. Ultimately, I encourage you to do your research on it, and hopefully you can come to an informed decision about whether or not placentophagy is the right choice for you!