Nearly all female mammals consume the placenta following the birth of her baby, which is referred to as Placentophagia. There are many different theories why they do this which include: a shift in food preference towards carnivorousness, general hunger, and specific hunger. The most popular belief is that the mother instinctively cleans up the nest site so not to attract predators, therefore protecting the newborn.
The reasons for Placentophagy are more complex than simply being a solution for cleaning the nest. While this last theory seems to make the most sense, there are a few factors why this theory does not hold up:
1.) Unchallenged predators still ingest the placenta. For example, lions and tigers consume the placenta, though they do not fear other predators will threaten their young.
2.) There is no effort by animals to clean up any of the other afterbirth that can attract predators, such as the surrounding blood or fluids remaining at the birth site.
3.) Mammals will remain at the birth site to completely consume the placenta, even after the offspring is strong enough to walk away.
4.) Arboreal primates, those that birth in trees, do not drop the placenta to the ground and move to another tree, which would keep their infant safe. Instead, they stay in the tree and spend hours consuming the placenta.
Supporting Research Documents: Placentophagia – A Behavioral Enigma
It is reported that 50-80% of women experience mild depression during the first 2 weeks after childbirth, most commonly referred to as the ‘baby blues’. This is not surprising considering the physical and emotional demands of childbirth. While most women’s symptoms are only temporary as their bodies and lifestyles adjust to caring for their newborn, close to 20% of women symptoms don’t go away after a few weeks and become more serious. This is defined postpartum depression (PPD).
Research has shown extreme fatigue in early postpartum can play a significant role in the development of PPD, and early screening could be used to predict the onset of PPD in new mothers. Fatigue is generally accepted after childbirth, not only because of the physical demands to the mother during childbirth, but also because of the demanding schedule of a newborn. But one factor that is commonly overlooked that can greatly contribute to fatigue is iron deficiency. This factor is overlooked because iron stores in the mother’s body are expected to greatly improve after the birth of the baby; however the average North American diet does not supply the extra iron a pregnant woman requires, so the mother is at a risk of developing iron deficiency if she is un-supplemented. Even with supplementation, a woman can still have low iron stores due to normal blood loss during childbirth. A pregnant woman requires extra iron not only in preparation for blood loss during childbirth, but also because her blood supply will increase by 50% to support the growing fetus and supply it oxygen. Iron deficiency is shown to have symptoms such as impaired ability to concentrate, impaired physical work capacity, depressive symptoms, and fatigue.
Placentophagia could help play a great role in ending the cycle of iron deficiency and fatigue leading to PPD. Studies have found that an average placenta contains 8.3% of total dietary iron increments for pregnant woman, and that PPD responds well to iron supplementation. Because placentas are rich in iron, they could supply the mother with the iron she needs to fight extreme fatigue resulting in PPD.
Supporting Research Documents:
Fatigue as a Predictor of Postpartum Depression
Have we forgotten the significance of postpartum iron deficiency?
The Impact of fatigue on the development of PPD
Iron content of intact placenta and cords
Maternal iron deficiency affects postpartum emotions & cognition
Unexplained fatigue in non-anemic women
A study in Prague determined that consuming the Placenta had a dramatic effect on lactation. 86% of 210 women reported significant increase in milk production after taking the placenta in a dried form (much like the TCM method) after just for days. It differs from the way we administer dried placenta in that they gave the participants a large amount in just a couple of days, whereas our clients take a smaller dose for a longer period of time. However, the results are still relevant. Unfortunately the researchers were unable to determine exactly why this practice has such positive effect, but concluded it must be because of the hormonal content of the placenta. Further research is currently being done to prove this theory.
Supporting Research Documents: Placenta as a Lactagogon
The Placenta Contains Prolactin & Oxytocin:
Breastfeeding is primarily controlled by the hormones Prolactin and Oxytocin.
Prolactin stimulates milk production and Oxytocin controls the milk ejection reflex or let down from the mammary glands. Oxytocin also stimulates the uterus to return to a pre-pregnant state and reduces blood loss after birth.
Many studies have examined the role of hormones in postpartum depression. Researchers have determined that certain hormonal changes contribute to depressive moods in some postpartum women, but additional research is needed to fully understand this complex relationship. While hormones may play a large role, other factors such as family history, marital discord, and stressful childcare events can also contribute to this disorder.
What research does tell us for certain is that placenta does disrupt normal hormone secretion, and this disruption does not return to normal immediately after childbirth. During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes 3 times the amount stress fighting hormones to help the woman cope with pregnancy, labour and delivery. But after the baby is born, it can take time for the brain to balance the production of these hormones since the placenta is no longer involved. This can cause a sudden ‘crash’ in hormones, which usually occurs within the first four to five days postpartum. Without the normal amount of stress fighting hormones, the challenges and demands of new motherhood may become very overwhelming and may contribute to depression.
Ingestion of the placenta has been shown to modify the blood levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones. Placentophagia would help introduce these hormones back the mothers body until her brain takes over in signaling production once again. This would help prevent postpartum depression by not allowing her hormone levels to drop and become extremely unbalanced directly after childbirth.
Supporting Research Documents:
Hormonal Changes in Postpartum and Implications for PPD
Effects of placentophagy on serum prolactin and progesterone concentrations in rats after parturition or superovulation.
Research shows that Ingestion of placenta or amniotic fluid enhances opioid-mediated antinociception. Opioid-mediated antinoceiption refers to the increased tolerance of pain.
A mother can experience quite a bit of pain after childbirth, in both vaginal and surgical births. By ingesting the placenta, the mother would be able to cut down or diminish the amount of painkillers needed in order to cope with the pain. Taking fewer medications would result in less negative side effects for new mothers, and would also stop the newborn from being exposed to any medications which could pass through the bloodstream into her breast milk.
Placentophagia for pain relief is an alternative option to painkillers during postpartum recovery. I wouldn’t suggest pain relief as a sole reason to ingest the placenta, but instead I view this as an added bonus to the other wonderful benefits placentophagia has to offer.
Currently known hormones, vitamins and minerals found in placental tissue:
Source: Jodi Selander via LucineBiotech.com
- Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and Cortisol
- Estrogens (estrone, estradiol and estriol)
- Thyroid-Releasing hormone (TRH), thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulines and ultimately Thyroxine (T4)
- Prolactin and Human Placental Lactagon (hPL)
- Leuteinizing hormone (LH)
- Human Chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
Other relevant components:
- Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF)
- Vitamin B6