1. Killion, Molly M. MS, RN, CNS

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The placenta plays an essential role in fetal development and can reflect maternal health status; however, it is usually discarded without consideration, perhaps contributing to its other name "afterbirth." There has been interest in honoring the placenta by burying it in a special place or using it for medicinal or beauty aids. There is a small but growing number of new mothers who desire to take the placenta home to consume it; also known as placentophagy (Farr, Chervenak, McCullough, Baergen, & Grunebaum, 2017). Therefore, it is important for nurses to have adequate information to advise mothers about the potential risks of this practice.


The placenta is the only body tissue that hospitals may allow patients to take home. Almost all other body tissues are sent to pathology after removal and then disposed of as biohazard waste after examination if indicated. Although most placentas are normal and do not require a pathology exam, those that do are fixed in formaldehyde and are no longer safe for consumption or removal from the hospital (Farr et al., 2017).


There is no known current human culture that incorporates consuming the placenta as part of its traditions. Most other mammals routinely eat their placenta (Farr et al., 2017). Placentas have been reported being eaten by new mothers raw, cooked, dehydrated, or encapsulated. There are numerous companies that offer preparation of the placenta through encapsulation for consumption; however, there is no uniform standard for this process (Farr et al.). There is no scientific evidence of any clinical benefit from consuming the placenta and very little information has been published in scientific or clinical journals on this topic (Farr et al.). What is available of human data are patient self-reports of perceived benefits, likely extrapolated from animal data. In rodents, placentophagy seems to induce an analgesic effect, which is referred to as the placental opioid-enhancing factor (Farr et al.). When rats consume the placenta, it seems to restore normal gut activity (Farr et al.). Those who encourage human placentophagy claim that it prevents postpartum depression and improves mood and energy, improves milk supply, supplies important micronutrients, and reduces postpartum bleeding (Farr et al.).


Some experts recommend against placental consumption and warn that placentophagy may pose harmful risks. As there is no existing standard for placental preparation for consumption, there is a risk of inadequate heating that is insufficient to eliminate bacteria such as group B streptococcus (GBS) or viruses such as Zika, HIV, and hepatitis (Buser et al., 2017; Farr et al., 2017). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a report linking a case of late-onset GBS bacteremia in an infant to maternal consumption of pills containing dehydrated placenta (Buser et al.). The placenta can act as a filter between fetal and maternal circulations and there is concern of a build up of toxins accumulating in the placenta including heavy metals (like cadmium) or toxic components of substances like tobacco, alcohol, or controlled substances (Farr et al.).


New mothers should be aware that there is no current evidence that placentophagy is beneficial; however, there is risk of harm to their baby as per the CDC (Buser et al., 2017) report. There may be risks to the mother as well based on preparation of the placenta. This could be an area of future research. Farr et al. (2017) recommend that hospitals develop policies on releasing the placenta to new mothers after birth and making sure that new mothers are aware of the potential risks of placentophagy given the current state of evidence.




Buser G. L., Mato S., Zhang A. Y., Metcalf B. J., Beall B., Thomas A. R. (2017). Notes from the field: Late-onset infant Group B Streptococcus infection associated with maternal consumption of capsules containing dehydrated placenta - Oregon, 2016. MMWR Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 66(25), 677-678. [Context Link]


Farr A., Chervenak F. A., McCullough L. B., Baergen R. N., Grunebaum A. (2017). Human placentophagy: A review. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.016. [Epub ahead of print] [Context Link]