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About Placentophagy

Placentophagy is the ingestion of the placenta by mother mammal after birth. Almost all mammals (herbivores included) are known to take part in this ritual. Exceptions to ingestion of the placenta are only water dwelling mammals (whales and fin-footed mammals) and camels. Even marsupials, who do not deliver the afterbirth, reabsorb the placenta and lick the amniotic fluids excreted. Although the consumption of placenta is more popular in the eastern cultures (china and Vietnam) it has not traditionally been practiced by humans. As more studies are conducted however, this practice is becoming more mainstream.

When a mother gives birth to her baby, she is putting her mind and body through a taxing physical and emotional experience. The process of labor takes a lot of time, energy, and physical stamina to endure. At the end of this sometimes traumatic ordeal the mother is spent, having bled, sweat and cried for hours and in some cases days! This leaves the mother extremely deficient having used up most of her yin (female energy in the form of fluids) in her body. She is exhausted, pale and low in Qi (life essence), yet expected to be able to provide food and sustenance from her body for her new child before she has had sufficient time to recover.

By consuming her placenta, the mother is essentially putting back part of what she has lost during the labor experience. This custom designed organ has the hormones and minerals she needs to be able to tonify her blood, replenish her essence and be able to get her body revitalized to produce much needed nourishment for her child.

The scientific arguments for placenta consumption are many. The most popular theory is “the cleaning of the nest”. It argues that the mammal consumes the placenta to clean the birth site to ward off predators. However, the scent of birth and blood during labour cannot be disguised and the consumption of all the birth fluids does not take place. Also if this were the case then it would not explain why unchallenged predators (lions, tigers, etc.) also practice placentophagy. Some mammals tend to leave their young unattended for long periods of times during the ingestion, allowing for potential prey. Primates who deliver in trees also practice placentopagy rather than coming down or moving to another tree.

What is the evolutionary purpose of placentophagy? Why do animals feel the need to consume the afterbirth? Their instincts cannot be wrong or they would not waste the time (up to two hours) post partum to eat. This is a crucial time when their newborns need them and yet they prioritize this ritual. The hormones, minerals and vitamins stored in the placenta, including the high levels of iron needed to recuperate may be a reason. Or perhaps consuming the placenta may affect the mother’s immune system by suppressing her body’s natural response to create antibodies as a reflex to antigens present in the baby’s blood. This theory though still undergoing research, could show future potential to Rh-negative mothers who have to receive Rhogam vaccines during pregnancies and reduce their risks of potential miscarriage in subsequent pregnancies.

These among other studied benefits of placentophagy, suggest that the cleaning of the nest theory may not stand as much ground as scientists previously suggest. As human placentophagy gains more popularity and respect, cause for more studies will be granted. Perhaps as it becomes more mainstream we will discover more valuable health benefits and potentially a natural solution for Rh-negative mothers wishing to have intervention free safe pregnancies.

 
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