When it comes to mothers consuming their placentas, there are strong opinions but a lack of consensus. So, is the placenta just a waste by-product of birth, or should it be seen as the key to a nutrition-packed feast? Dietitian Dr Frankie Phillips explains.


What is the placenta?

The placenta, sometimes called the ‘afterbirth’, is an organ attached to the womb lining. It grows following conception and its role is to pass oxygen, nutrients and hormones from the mother’s blood supply, via the umbilical cord, to the baby. In this way it acts as the lungs, gut, kidneys and liver of the baby, as waste products such as carbon dioxide are transported out. It also provides some protection for the baby against bacterial infections from the mother.

After a baby is born, the placenta is no longer needed and the mother will ‘deliver’ it or, during a Caesarean section, it will be lifted out by the doctor. Midwives check that the placenta is complete to ensure there are no subsequent risks to the mother, such as infection or heavy bleeding.

Wasted or wanted?

In many cases, the placenta is disposed of after the birth. However, there appears to be a growing interest in saving and eating it, with some people suggesting there may be benefits to be had. Although there are records of this practice through history, with dried placenta being used in Chinese medicine, precise numbers are not known. What is clear is that the number of people interested in ‘placentophagy’ (literally ‘eating the placenta’) has increased over the last couple of decades. Despite this, there is limited evidence to support its value to the mother.

Are there any benefits or dangers from eating the placenta?

Anecdotal support for the practice provides quite a list of supposed benefits. These include potential improvements in energy, breast milk quality, hormonal balance, post-delivery pain and insomnia; plus a lower risk of postnatal depression, better skin elasticity, restored iron stores and help with baby bonding. Although this sounds appealing, sadly there is limited evidence, with a review of ten studies finding there to be no data to support these claims. There are, however, studies supporting the risks associated with the practice, such as infection.

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How is placenta consumed?

There are a number of ways to prepare placenta, with these the most commonly reported:

• Using the fresh raw placenta to make a ‘smoothie’ with fruits
• Cooking the fresh placenta, e.g. stir-frying or making a pâté
• Putting a chunk of raw placenta onto the gum
• Drying the placenta and making it into capsules
• Soaking it in alcohol to make a tincture.

The future of placentophagy

In the UK, there are a small number of companies that offer a service producing encapsulated pills, tinctures, smoothies and other products using your placenta. However, there have been some trading standards concerns about the safety of the practice, citing contamination with bacteria during delivery as a possible risk factor. Also, unless the placenta is stored properly, as with all fresh foodstuffs, it is liable to go ‘off’.

Last words

Women are rightly cautious about what they eat and drink during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It's worth noting that there is a lack of evidence for the benefits of consuming a placenta, but there are potential dangers.

Therefore, while there is no consensus on the benefits, if any, of eating the placenta – and mothers who wish to keep the placenta could potentially be supported in their decision – the current lack of credible evidence and regulation in this area means the jury is still out.

What do you think? We would love to hear your opinions and experiences below...

This article was reviewed on 8 February 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Dr Frankie Phillips is a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist specialising in infant and toddler nutrition with over 20 years' experience.


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