- Interest in consuming one’s placenta, known as placentophagy, appears to have risen in recent years.
- Elle King this week shared a photo of her mother, a doula, preparing King’s placenta to be consumed.
- An OB-GYN told Insider that she never recommends patients consume their placenta.
Elle King, the “Ex’s & Oh’s” singer who recently welcomed her first child, shared an Instagram post this week thanking her mother for her support during her labor and delivery — including cooking King’s placenta to be encapsulated and consumed.
King gave birth via C-section to a son, Lucky Levi, on September 1. Her mom, London King, served as her doula.
“Appreciation post! My mother, the angel of all angels is the best doula ever! I will get into my birth story when I’m ready…but this person is my best friend,” King wrote. “She helped us get the whole house ready and even though Lucky ended up a belly birth, she was my doula through the whole process, and most importantly she was the best mom I could ask for. She is seen here cooking my placenta to encapsulate it for all the amazing benefits! I love you @pushlovedoula! We couldn’t have done this without you!”
Some people believe that a birthing person can obtain benefits like reduced postpartum mood swings, increased energy, and a better milk supply from consuming their placenta in pills. Consuming one’s placenta is known as placentophagy.
Research has suggested that people who consume their placentas can perceive health benefits, but it’s not clear whether this is more than a placebo effect. Despite that, interest in consuming the placenta has appeared to rise among birthing people in recent years.
Generally, the process involves steaming the placenta (which King’s mom appeared to be doing in the photo), grinding down the organ, and putting it in pills that people swallow in the weeks after giving birth.
Not all doctors recommend this practice
Dr. Felice Gersh, an OB-GYN with Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, California, said she recommended her patients not consume their placenta.
“Leave this practice to other animals,” she told Insider. “Humans simply don’t need to eat placentas.”
During pregnancy, the placenta forms to provide nutrients to the fetus, filter out toxins, and remove waste. While the organ, which can weigh up to two pounds by birth, is impressive, its job is done once a baby is born, Gersh said.
“The placenta is an incredible organ, and once delivered, following the baby’s birth, its purpose has been served for humans,” Gersh said.
Though it’s generally harmless, consuming one’s placenta introduces the possibility of bacterial infection, Gersh said. This can be particularly dangerous for people with group B strep. In addition, if anyone other than the birthing parent consumes the placenta, they could be at risk for blood-borne disease, she said.
People don’t often eat their placentas
Despite high-profile people like King talking about consuming their placentas, the practice remains rare, Gersh said.
Gersh said that some traditional Chinese and Vietnamese cultures centuries ago prescribed using the placenta but there’s no evidence of widespread use.
Some mammals, including cats, eat their placenta. Scientists believe they do it to cover up the scent and protect the new offspring from predators. And the calories in the placenta can give the female the energy she needs, allowing her to stay with her offspring rather than leaving to search for food and water.
Modern humans who have just given birth simply don’t have those needs, Gersh said. Because of that, she said, she’s blunt when her patients ask about eating their placentas. “This is not a practice that humans engage in,” she says. “There are some risks of bacterial contamination, and there is not a single benefit to be gained from this practice.”