Here's Why Some Women Are Eating Their Own Placentas

Some 40,000 laws went into effect as the ball dropped this year, but the weirdest one might be Oregon’s new law allowing mothers to take their placentas home from the hospital.

Ignore your gag reflexes for a moment and know that various cultures assign certain powers to the placenta, the organ that connects the foetus to the wall of the uterus and gives it nourishment.

For example, the Navajo, among other native tribes around the world, bury the placenta ceremonially.

“In fact, many women do want to take home their placenta for various cultural reasons,” Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland), the sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor. “And hospitals and birthing centres have tried to respond to these requests and have often done it and didn’t realise that they were out of compliance with the law.”

While some mums might keep these birth organs for tradition, others may want eat them — a practice called maternal placentophagy.

Yes, you read that correctly. And the mothers who have practiced it might surprise you. In a 2013 interview with Glamour Magazine, “Mad Men” star January Jones advised new mums to eat their placentas to avoid postpartum depression.

Women like Jones may justify eating placentas because they contain prostaglandin (which makes the uterus contract) and the stress-easing hormone oxytocin, as The Guardian has noted. Proponents of placentophagy also point out that other non-human mammals eat the organ after childbirth. Advocates of placenta-eating also frequently point to a 1954 study finding 181 out of 210 women had increased milk production after placenta ingestion.

Women have reported benefits more recently, too. In 2013, the majority of 189 women surveyed in the Ecology of Food and Nutrition perceived positive benefits from eating the organ and more importantly, said they’d eat their placentas again after future births.

However, as that study noted, the placebo effect could have causes those pluses. Other scientists have also expressed scepticism about the “proven” benefits of eating placentas.

Mark Kristal — a behavioural neuroscientist at the University of Buffalo and a leading (if not the only) expert in placentophagia — concluded the practice must provide a “fundamental biological advantage” to mammals but says the nature of this advantage remains a mystery, New York Magazine reported.

Every 10 or 20 years, people will decide they need to do it, labelling the behaviour “natural” since many animals eat their placentas, Kristal told the magazine. “But it’s not based on science. It’s a fad,” he said.

Still, numerous mothering websites have endorsed the trend, posting recipes like roast placenta, placenta pasta, and placenta smoothies. Mums can even purchase DIY-kits (on Amazon and Etsy) to dry their birthing organs, grind them, and make swallowable capsules. Others prefer to down the meaty sac totally raw.

Regardless of whether some people actually believe the hoopla surrounding placentophagy, everybody deserves the right to practice it. The science might seem shaky, but some women, including many in Hawaii consider placenta-eating a matter of religious freedom.

Many Oregon hospitals have already looked the other way when faced with a determined family who wanted to take the organ with them, according to The Oregonian. So the state just wanted to officially ok the practice. Eat up, mums.

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