Kim Kardashian West has been very vocal about the difficulties she had during her pregnancy with newly born son Saint West. Whether it was about her infertility issues, or her diagnosis of placenta accreta, or just feeling fat during her pregnancy, Kim was out there announcing all to her social media fans.
So it shouldn’t surprise us when Kim announced on her app that she is “eating her placenta:”
“So, I’m really not this holistic person or someone who would have ever considered eating my placenta. I actually thought Kourtney would have soooo done this, but I don’t think she did. [She did!] And when I say ‘eat my placenta,’ I mean that I’m having it freeze-dried and made into a pill form—not actually fry it like a steak and eat it (which some people do, BTW).”
The process, which is called placental encapsulation, has been increasingly popular among celebrities over the past few years. Other celebrity proponents include Mad Men actress January Jones, Tia and Tamera Mowry of the reality show Sister Sister, Alicia Silverstone, and Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik.
This is not the first time Kim has done placental encapsulation, as she did it after the birth of her daughter North (Nori) West:
“I heard so many stories when I was pregnant with North of moms who never ate their placenta with their first baby and then had postpartum depression,” she explained. “But then when they took the pills with their second baby, they did not suffer from depression! So I thought, why not try it? What do I have to lose?
I really didn’t want the baby blues and thought I can’t go wrong with taking a pill made of my own hormones—made by me, for me. I started researching and read about so many moms who felt this same way and said the overall healing process was so much easier.”
The placenta (also known as afterbirth) is the organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake, waste elimination, and gas exchange through the mother’s blood supply. It also helps fight against infection and produces hormones to support the pregnancy.
The placenta is connected to the fetus by the umbilical cord, which is about 22-24 inches in length. The umbilical cord contains two umbilical arteries and one umbilical vein.
The placenta is made of tissue from both the mother and the fetus, closely bound together. It has two different surfaces, the maternal surface, coming off of the uterus, and the fetal surface, facing inward towards the fetus. The umbilical cord arises from the fetal surface.
Placentophagy is the act of eating a placenta, either in raw or altered (e.g., cooked, dried, steeped in liquid) form, after birth.
Numerous historical occurrences of placentophagy have been recorded throughout the world, whereas modern occurrences of placentophagy are not as common since most contemporary societies do not promote its practice. Since the 1970s, however, consumption of the placenta believing that it has health benefits has been a growing practice among clients of midwives and alternative-health advocates in the U.S. and Mexico.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, proponents assert that the placenta retains nutrients and hormones and that placentophagy may have the following benefits:
Mothers who engage in placentophagy can do it one of two ways:
Placental encapsulation is a procedure where the placenta is freeze-dried, powdered and put into capsular form, by a placenta encapsulation specialist. They can be found across the country. There are courses that can teach the technique to providers but be aware that is no laws governing this process, and the laws on the handling of placenta vary from state to state.
Costs for encapsulation range from about $200 to $350.
As the production of placenta pills is unregulated, it is unknown what substances are in the pills and whether the processing has altered the nature of the of those substances.
Most of the perceived benefits of placentophagy are based on stories, not science. These stories come from women who have done it and said it made them feel better or prevented post-partum depression. Because these claims haven’t been validated through the scientific method, we don’t know if these benefits are real or due solely to a placebo effect. A placebo effect is defined as a beneficial effect produced by a “sugar pill” or treatment and therefore must be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.
There are actually very few scientific studies on the practice of placentophagy in humans, although there are some studies in animals. Dr. Crystal T. Clark is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the author of an October 2015 review in Archives of Women’s Mental Health. Her team looked at 49 papers related to placentophagy in humans and animal models. At this time, based on these studies, they conclude that there is not enough evidence to support the claims that “placentophagia in humans helps to enhance lactation, reduce pain, facilitate uterine contraction, or replenish hormones.” They did call for controlled studies to assess the possible efficacy and risks in humans.
Placental encapsulation appears to carry little inherent risk if ingested solely by the mother. Many consider it a positive experience, although some mothers have reported experiencing negative symptoms such as dizziness or jitteriness after taking the pills.
One potential risk is the spread of infection, especially if served raw. The placenta is not naturally germ-free and bacteria can be present in postnatal placental tissue. In addition, toxic elements such as selenium, cadmium, mercury and lead have been found in this tissue. These risks may also be present in encapsulated placenta. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into the practice of placenta encapsulation now that it is becoming more widespread.