Last week, actress January Jones admitted to People Magazine that she ate her own placenta as part of a healthy post-natal regimen. While she got the requisite amount of flak for this -- ABC's headline reads "Mad Mom?.." -- author Nancy Redd wrote more seriously for NYTimes.com about about the experience she had ingesting afterbirth -- one that was mostly negative.
New York Magazine was the first publication to call out eating afterbirth as a trend. In "The Placenta Cookbook," Atossa Araxia Abrahamian documented benefits of the "snack," which "is said to alleviate postpartum depression, aid in breastmilk production and lactation, act as a uterine tonic, and replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy," she wrote.
But because there have been no scientific studies to confirm or refute the benefits of eating placenta (which can actually be consumed in pill form, not necessarily with fries on the side), arguments on either side have been strictly anecdotal.
In September, Babble blogger Elizabeth Stark recounted her decision to try placenta eating and encouraged other moms to follow her lead. "I didn't experience mood swings and I had more energy while taking the pills. Though I don't have a double-blind, peer-reviewed study to back up my claim, I feel confident that placenta-eating made those first few postpartum weeks easier," she wrote.
And Jones, whose real-life parenting tactics are a far cry from those of on-screen character, Betty Draper's, told People that taking the capsules isn't "witch-crafty" and she recommends it to all moms. Besides, she adds, humans are the only mammals who don't do it.
On the other end of the spectrum, Redd, posed the question: "How many other women are putting their trust in their placenta as a minimizer of baby blues when it very well may be a cause of their mama drama?"
Placentophagia -– the scientific word, usually in reference to animals -- drove her, she believes, into a "tabloid-worthy meltdown mode," causing tears and rage just one day after her first dose. As soon as she stopped taking the pills, she felt better.
And now she regrets "being so gullible without a single shred of proof." After all, before her pregnancy, she writes, she was the skeptic who would warn a friend, "You don't know what's actually in that! Natural doesn't always mean good." But once her baby came, the possibility of terrible things happening seemed far scarier than swallowing a few "miracle" pills.
Redd does consider that her manic episode and return to normalcy may have been independent from her pill consumption. A woman's hormones and body change so much post-birth that it would be hard to pinpoint what caused her meltdown specifically. Factors that play into post-partum depression or the tamer "baby blues" include hormonal changes and emotional factors. Research even suggests that weaning can be a cause.
Still, while the effects of placenta eating aren't clinically known, Redd suggests that, like an appendix, maybe the placenta is something that should stay out of the body once it comes out.
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