They say it has nutritional value. It doesn't sound delicious. Some new mothers are digesting, often in capsule form, their newborn's placenta.
“It improves mood, protects from what is typically called the ‘baby blues,’ or the more serious condition of postpartum depression,” says Dan Benyshek, a medical anthropologist at UNLV. “It increases energy levels, increases lactation, and a host of other benefits.”
It’s not for everyone. Alpacas won’t go near it, for example.
“It’s surprising that given the number of placental mammals, terrestrial placental mammals that exist – 4500 – that we’re one of just a handful of species that doesn’t eat the placenta after birth,” says Benyshek, adding that the short list of non-placenta ingesting mammals is limited to humans and camelids – camels, alpacas and llamas.
So when did modern women start ingesting placenta? The practice goes back a little further than celebrity news reports of January Jones and Holly Madison taking part - but not much.
“The earliest accounts date back to the late 60s and early 70s,” says Sharon Young, anthropology medical student at UNLV. “It looks like it may be aligned with the natural birth or the natural health movement.”
Jodi Selander lives in North Las Vegas and is the owner of Placenta Benefits. She cooks, dehydrates and encapsulates placenta for her clients, who are interested in the nutritional benefits, but not in handling the placenta. Selander was squeamish at first herself.
“When I got pregnant with my second child, I had a lot of predisposition to postpartum depression, so I was really concerned and wanted to find something that would help stave it off,” says Selander. “I was talking to a colleague and friend who is an acupuncturist and she kind of jokingly said ‘Well, you can eat the placenta,’ and I said ‘What else can I do?’”
Selander developed her own process of encapsulating the placenta which she says is very close to what is done in traditional Chinese medicine. She’s been in business since 2006, but is still enthused about her work.
“Every single one of them has its own connection to the life force and things like that – they are really special,” says Selander. “Not to be the crazy placenta lady.”
Listen to audio of the complete interview.
Jodi Selander, Owner, Placenta Benefits
Dan Benyshek, Medical Anthropologist, UNLV
Sharon Young, Anthropology Medical Student, UNLV
Lisa Stark, new mother