Risks of Eating the Placenta

Thinking of ingesting your baby's onetime lifeline? Before you dig in, discover the risks involved in this practice.
Fancy Photography/ Veer

Thanks to a vocal group of new celebrity moms, placenta eating has gone from an old-school bit of Chinese medicine (dried placenta is used in some remedies crafted by Chinese herbalists) to something more moms are considering. And the benefits attributed to ingesting this former piece of yourself are said to be pretty stellar--people believe it can help you heal faster, improve your energy levels, boost milk production and stave off postpartum depression.

But despite the fact that this piece of tissue comes directly from inside your own body, there could be some real risks to ingesting it. Think about these concerns before you take a bite.

It could be contaminated.

Even before you give birth, the placenta serves as a filter, keeping some dangerous things away from your baby--some of which could still be contained in the placenta. "While the placenta is in utero, it's almost like a filter, filtering out things the baby shouldn't get, including bacteria--and then you're going to ingest it," says Titi Otunla, a certified nurse midwife at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston. "It doesn't sound right." And let's face it: Even if you deliver in a germ-conscious hospital, the birth process involves an awful lot of bodily fluids and chances for contamination. "The placenta can become infected, and the vagina isn't sterile either," says Marra Francis, M.D., an ob-gyn in Woodlands, Texas, and an author of the Mommy MD Guides. "Women often defecate during labor, and there's even more bacteria in feces, which can contaminate the placenta during birth. Why would you want to risk introducing these infectious agents back into you?"

It may be hard to keep it "food safe."

You probably wouldn't eat a steak that's been left out on a counter all day, right? Unless you bring a cooler and ice with you when you go into labor, you may not have access to proper refrigeration fast enough to preserve the placenta. "You'll need to make sure someone comes within an hour or two and takes it home to a freezer or refrigerator," Otunla says.

You could spread illness to yourself and others.

"Any infection in your blood lives in your placenta--so you're taking a risk ingesting that, especially if you're eating other people's placentas, or sharing your own with friends and family," Dr. Francis says. "Unless you know how to properly handle biohazards, you're going to put yourself at risk."

You may not even get the benefits you were seeking.

Most moms today don't take a bite of the raw placenta; it's often cooked and either dehydrated and ground into a powder that's placed in pill capsules, or frozen and used in fruit smoothies. But many of these processes, especially cooking, can damage the very nutrients you're hoping to receive. "You have to cook at sterilization levels, and at that point, you've denatured all of the proteins and the hormones that you think are going to help you heal," Dr. Francis says. "You have to cook at such high levels to kill bacteria that you will kill everything you think is good, too."

You may not like the taste.

Placentas are rich in blood, lending it a coppery, gamy flavor. Chefs who have cooked it, like Daniel Patterson of Coi and several other San Francisco restaurants, compare it to squab. Others suggest it's like liver, and a few compare it to chicken. In any case, you may be doing a whole lot of prep for a less-than-stellar eating experience.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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