Today my colleague at work asked me if I am going to eat my placenta, and if so, would I eat it raw or have it made into pills. As my jaw proceeded to drop and dribble extricated itself from my mouth, I managed to splutter an adamant “No!” So, here’s the deal: placentophagy is on the rise and is not only limited to weirdo actors and their scientologist friends.
Naturally, I was curious as to why a person would consider eating the bloody membranous afterbirth that is expelled from a woman’s body after her baby has been born. Recent research (based on experiments conducted on rats … nice) shows that the placenta and amniotic fluid of a woman contains a molecule (POEF, Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor) that modifies the activity of endogenous opioids in a way that produces an enhancement of the natural reduction in pain that occurs shortly after and during delivery. Some doctors, therefore, prescribe placenta consumption as medicine to help stem bleeding after birth and to help the uterus clean itself out. The placenta is rich in nutrients (iron and protein) that will help the mother heal after childbirth, and is also known to be a great source of vitamins and minerals, which are thought to help fight postpartum depression – vitamin B6 is great for this. Other benefits of placentophagy include an increase in energy levels, increased production of breast milk and a decrease in the likelihood of iron deficiency and thus insomnia or sleep disorders. One has to wonder why boiled, canned or pilled placenta is not readily available in local pharmacies?
Although some placenta on the cob may be a great solution to a variety of ailments, there are some ethical complications. Placentophagy is practised in the animal world, driven by the instinct of an animal to hide its young from predators. Most human beings do not have this instinct, although with baby stealers lurking around every corner it might not be a bad idea to ingest one’s placenta and amniotic fluid as a protective mechanism. Point being: placentophagy is natural for animals but is not an innate human instinct rendering it an unnatural human practice. When reading about all this weirdness, the word “cannibalism” was never far from thought. Cannibalism denotes the eating of the flesh of one’s own species, unless it’s a ceremonial practice: for magical or religious purposes, as to acquire the power or skill of a person recently killed, in which case eating of human flesh OR parts of the human body is cannibalism. The placenta is classified as an organ, rather than flesh, and so, legalistically, placentophagy is only cannibalistic if forming part of ceremonial practice. Then, to complicate matters, the notion of “self-cannibalism” rears its ugly head. Self-cannibalism refers to cannibalism as a natural occurrence (autophagy: controlled digestion of damaged organelles within a cell) or as a choice. There is no exclusion of the consumption of human organs in the definition of self-cannibalism, as there is in the definition of cannibalism. In which case, is placentophagy self-cannibalism?
If the inconsistencies and intricacies surrounding the definition of cannibalism pose no problem and the prospective parents buy into the health benefits of placentophagy, logical thought dictates that one would not want to eat raw placenta – at least in the case of Mr & Mrs Average. Luckily, there are some tasty recipes available online:
Each placenta weighs approximately 1/6 of the baby’s weight. Cut the meat away from the membranes with a sharp knife. Discard the membranes.
Placenta Cocktail: 1/4 cup raw placenta, 8oz V-8 juice, 2 ice cubes, 1/2 cup carrot. Blend at high speed for 10 seconds
Placenta Lasagne: Use your favourite lasagne recipe and substitute this mixture for one layer of cheese. In 2 tbl olive oil, quickly sauté meat of 3/4 placenta, ground or minced plus 2 sliced cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 diced onion & 2 tbl tomato paste, or 1 whole tomato.
Placenta Spaghetti: Cut meat of 3/4 placenta into bite size pieces, then brown quickly in 1 tbl. butter plus 1 tbl oil. Then add 1 large can tomato puree, 2 cans crushed pear tomatoes, 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tbl molasses, 1 bay leaf, 1 tbl rosemary, 1 tsp each of salt, honey, oregano, basil, and fennel. Simmer 1 1/2 hours.
Placenta Stew: Meat of 3/4 placenta in bite size chunks, 1 potato (cubed), 1/4 cup fresh parsley, 2 carrots, 3 ribs celery, 1 zucchini, 1 large tomato, 1 small onion. Dredge meat in 1 tbl. flour mixed with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp paprika, pinch of cloves, pinch of pepper, 6-8 crushed coriander seeds. Sauté meat in 2 tbl oil, then add vegetables (cut up) and 4-5 cups of water. Bring to full boil, and then simmer for 1 hour.
Placenta Pizza: Grind placenta. Sauté in 2 tbl olive oil with 4 garlic cloves, then add 1/4 tsp fennel, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp thyme, and 1/4 cup of wine. Allow to stand for 30 minutes, then use with your favourite home made pizza recipe. It’s a fine placenta sausage topping.
Placentophagy may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there are sentimental moms out there who are totally into the idea of placenta preservation – as a keepsake. In this case, a jar of formaldehyde will come in handy. There is also the option of drying and curing the placenta so that it may be used as a sleeping bag for your newborn baby, a handbag, a hot water bottle, or perhaps a hat or shower cap. Some parents may prefer to stick the placenta in a baby memory book and there is also the option of making a ‘placenta print’ or incorporating it into a work of art to commemorate the child’s birth. And how about a placenta teddy?
As for me, it’s going in the incinerator.