When I was a new mom, the promise of more energy, fewer mood swings, a steady milk supply, and a quicker recovery after labor sounded too good to be true. But advocates of placentophagy, or ingesting the placenta after birth, will tell you it's possible. You just need to give birth to it.
I first learned about eating placentas from a celebrity — thanks, January Jones — when I was pregnant with my second child in 2013.
I was intrigued by the many purported benefits, which include better bonding with the baby, lower risk of anemia, and reducing postpartum bleeding, mostly based on anecdotal evidence from other moms who've ingested their own placenta.
The first documented reference to human placentophagy appears to come from a 16-century Chinese text about the study of medicinal plants, according to NPR. The practice seems to have gained traction in the US in California "hippie enclaves" in the 1970s, NPR reported.
The possibility of an increased milk supply and improved moods were also appealing, since I'd had various issues with nursing, including painful bouts of mastitis, after the birth of my first child.
While experts don't recommend this celebrity-trendy practice, I was so impressed by how good I felt after consuming my placenta with my second child, that I did it again with my third.
How I ate my own placenta
My midwives recommended another midwife who could turn placentas into capsules, smoothies, and tinctures. She would personally collect my placenta from the hospital after I gave birth.
My husband's reaction when I told him I wanted to drink my placenta in smoothie form and consume the rest of it as capsules sums up the mainstream view quite well: "Have you completely lost your mind?"
Telling him it would cost $200 for the privilege, and that he was in charge of guarding the placenta after I gave birth to our baby, did not make him feel any happier about my decision.
My overnight hospital bag was stuffed full of Tupperware because I knew the placenta had to be sealed in an airtight container and refrigerated shortly after birth. My baby was 10.5 pounds and the placenta was enormous, so I was glad I brought the family-lasagna-sized Tupperware in the end.
I'd asked the midwife to cut off a sliver and put it in a smaller container for the smoothie. Unfortunately, in the commotion of leaving the hospital, I left the recently birthed organ on the windowsill in my room. I'm still horrified by this.
The placenta piece I managed to salvage was steamed with lemon, ginger, and green chili, using a traditional Chinese medicine recipe. It was then dehydrated and ground into a powder, which resulted in over 200 capsules that I was instructed to take three times a day for the first six weeks and then once a day for as long as I wanted afterward.
The pills worked for me
I felt great in the weeks immediately after birth, with tons of energy and lots of milk. This was especially impressive since it was a brutally cold January, I had a toddler, and my baby only slept when carried.
My physical recovery was much quicker the second time around as well, despite delivering a child nearly two pounds heavier than my firstborn.
Arguably, it could have been the placebo effect. After all, I'd spent a couple of hundred bucks on this and eaten an organ, so I was incentivized for it to work.
Placebo or not, I was so impressed with my experience that I did it again in 2015, when I had my third baby. Again, I was perky, full of milk, and energized on little sleep.
There are some risks
After a case involving a baby developing neonatal group B streptococcus sepsis in 2017 from placenta capsules, the CDC doesn't recommend placentophagia at all, and added a warning for parents after this case. However, a large study from 2018 suggested that placentophagy was not associated with any adverse outcomes for babies.