Sometimes an alluring headline just draws me in – I can’t stop myself from clicking the link to read all about it. “It” in this case was the provocative headline:
Hilary Duff Reveals She Drank Her Placenta in a Smoothie After Giving Birth: It Was ‘Delightful’
I wondered immediately why any woman would make a blender drink with her baby’s lifeline – and then I wondered who this Hilary Duff is and why anyone would care if she did or didn’t drink her placenta and did or didn’t find it “delightful?”
Some quick research revealed the identify of Ms. Duff as a Disney child star with notable subsequent acting and singing credits. She is the kind of celebrity who is the subject of tell-all articles about pregnancy, motherhood, naming the baby, telling the paparazzi to leave pregnant women alone, etc. etc.
Now I understood why the headline started by announcing a revelation by a celebrity of Duff’s caliber: to lend credibility to the main idea. So what’s all this about drinking her natal placenta? What put that idea in her head?
Do you even know what a placenta really is? I had to go look it up.
The placenta is a temporary organ critical in pregnancy:
“It nourishes the fetus, also bringing oxygen and removing waste for the mother’s kidneys to dispose of. This essential organ also regulates hormone production throughout pregnancy and is responsible for sustaining the pregnancy.”
The umbilical cord (future belly button) attaches the placenta to the developing baby. The body naturally pushes it out after the baby. It weighs about one pound and appears round and flat.
Here comes the kinda gross part: almost all mammals – meat-eaters and herbivores – “consume their placenta as an innate behavior after giving birth to their young.”
Human scientists are divided in the explanation of why mammals eat the placenta after birth: either the mother craves needed nutrition it contains; or the mother just wants to tidy up the crib – nest, that is.
The Chinese have a long history of using placenta to treat lung and kidney disorders but not pregnant women.
Consuming postpartum placenta tissue is called placentophagy and it is not an ancient human practice, by any stretch of the imagination. Medical journals first began to mention it in 1902.
Fast forward to 1973. A letter published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology said that, out of 179 human societies studies, not a single one reported a history of mothers consuming their own placentas.
Yet, WebMD states about placentophagy:
“Human moms do it, too, including tribal women and glamorous celebrities.”
That would be glamourous celebrities like Hilary Dunn, January Jones, and Alicia Silverstone – whoever the last two are – who are both “giving eating the placenta a try.” These women are undoubtedly box office superstars I’ve never heard of because I’m not a fan.
But what tribal women would those be, we have to ask? The WebMD article gave no indication to contradict the 1973 survey of 179 human groups who don’t eat the placenta and never have.
It turns out that placentophagy became popularized by alternative-medicine midwives who appeared on the scene with the psychedlic revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Women began having their babies at home instead of going for a three-day hospital stay.
Another common euphymism for “eating” or “consumption is encapsulation and you can, in fact, dry and powder placental tissue and fill pills with it. Or you could cook it into some liver and onions.
Or, if you are Hilary Dunn, you can blend it into a delicious smoothie.
Just because you can do something, should you? WebMD says:
“People who support eating the placenta say that it can raise your energy and breast milk quantity. They also say it can level off your hormones, lowering your chances of postpartum depression and insomnia.”
But the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2015 that eating the birth placenta provides no health benefit and may be risky. Coauthor Dr. Cynthia Coyle said there were “no regulations for how the placenta should be stored or prepared or even what quantities to consume.”
No one seems able to explain modern interest in placentophagy, other than celebrity media hype. Quoting Hillary Duff:
“It was the most delightful smoothie I’ve ever had. I haven’t had a smoothie that delightful since I was ten. It was calorie-filled with juice and fruit and everything delicious.”
Delightful, delicious, delovery. And possibly harmful to your baby’s health. Forbes told the unhappy story of an Oregon mother who, starting three days after giving birth, ate two capsule of her dried placenta (processed by an unnamed company) twice a day – until her baby started having “significant” trouble breathing.
Medical tests showed that the Oregon baby had been infected with a group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacterial infection that was found on the placenta capsule. The mother’s body, after the increase of this type of strep bacteria, passed it on to her baby.
With no scientific evidence whatsoever, no Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and no regulatory oversight, why on Earth would you trust your baby’s health to the claims of a starry-eyed celebrity?