Is Eating Your Placenta Really Beneficial or Is It Actually Dangerous?
Chrissy Teigen swears "placentophagy" prevented postpartum depression after her second child, but experts say this celeb-approved practice might actually be dangerous.
Chrissy Teigen is an open book. You've heard all about Chrissy Teigen's struggles with body positivity, stretch marks, breast milk, and "ripping to your butthole" during birth...yep. So really, it's probably not that surprising that you're now hearing all about Teigen's placenta, specifically her eating it.
On Sunday's Best: Celebrating 40 Years of CBS Sunday Morning, airing tonight, Teigen reportedly opens up about how she believes taking placenta pills after the birth of her second child helped her avoid the postpartum depression she experienced after her first pregnancy. (Plus, Teigen had already been vocal about her concerns about dealing with PPD the second time around.)
"It sounds ridiculous, but people have this belief that if you eat your placenta, it [gives back] all those nutrients that you lost when you were pregnant rather than just losing them immediately and losing that rush of endorphins," she says in a clip for the interview. "By taking these dry placenta pills you can kind of keep this energy up and be weaned off that feeling more." (Related: 19 Women Sum Up What Postpartum Depression Means to Them In Once Sentence)
Teigen isn't the first celeb to try eating her placenta-technically called "placentophagy"-a few of the Kardashians have also touted the out-there idea. But doctors say there's just one little problem with the celeb-endorsed practice: It's all BS.
What is placentophagy?
The idea behind placentophagy is pretty much what Teigen describes-the placenta is packed with hormones including estrogen and progesterone, which some believe can be beneficial if you eat them (or even get a placenta facial). "Since one of the causes of postpartum depression is a sudden drop in these hormones, ingesting these hormones theoretically makes sense," says Adeeti Gupta, M.D., a board-certified gynecologist and founder of Walk-In GYN Care in New York. It sounds appealing-even to the experts. "As a mom of two myself, I know how exhausting and difficult those first few weeks can be-you want some solution," says Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., an ER doctor and author of Mom Hacks.
But there are two major issues with the theory.
First, there's no scientific evidence to support the benefits of eating your placenta. Earlier this year, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a review of the research on the controversial practice and found "there is no scientific evidence of any clinical benefit of placentophagy among humans, and no placental nutrients and hormones are retained in sufficient amounts after placenta encapsulation to be potentially helpful to the mother postpartum." Basically, there's not enough of the good stuff left over after childbirth, anyway.
Second, what studies do show is that there are actually serious risks with eating your placenta. "The placenta can harbor many unknown infections since it's in direct contact with the birth canal and is expelled through the birth canal during the birthing process," says Dr. Gupta. "You could be potentially ingesting and directly seeding unknown infections in your gut or bloodstream." (Related: 9 Things You Should Know About Postpartum Exercise and Probably Don't)
For those who choose to ignore science, there are technically a few different ways to consume a placenta-raw, roasted, or in a smoothie or broth. But the easiest (and least Silence of the Lambs-like) way to ingest it is the way Teigen did, by taking placenta pills. Your placenta is steamed and dehydrated before being encapsulated in a pill. But this isn't any less dangerous. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a case in which an infant had become ill after the mom took placenta pills that hadn't been properly sterilized, though it's unclear exactly how transmission occurred. Plus, while the Association of Placenta Preparation Arts says that taking placenta pills "probably" won't pose a risk to your baby, Dr. Gillespie says "that's definitely not enough reassurance for me."
So, should you eat your placenta?
This one's pretty clear: Definitely not, according to doctors. "Until we know of safe processes to ensure safe eradication of any infections that may be harboring in that rich placental tissue, I would say this is dangerous," says Dr. Gupta. "The risk of unknown infections going in your bloodstream is serious and unknown."
More importantly, there are much safer-proven-forms of self-care. "Bottom line to new moms: Take care of yourself during this time," says Dr. Gillespie. "Hydrate; get rest when you can; get help from family if you can; get some sunlight during the day; eat a good mix of foods, and talk to your doctor if a supplement like iron or omegas is right for you," she says. "These are the things that we know help."