Holly Madison and January Jones are just two celebrities who admitted to consuming their placentas after giving birth. They join a growing number of moms taking part in this trend and say there are many benefits to the practice.
Las Vegas is home to a pioneer of the placenta-consuming process, and with her help University of Nevada Las Vegas is now leading the research on the topic.
Valley mom Lisa Stark saved her placenta and consumed it after both her babies were born. It's a practice called placentophagy.
"I thought if it's something that might work for me, I might as well try it," Stark said. "The hardships following giving birth are something that people don't talk a lot about. You're supposed to be in this 'I just had a baby' beautiful state where everything is perfect and wonderful. People don't talk about the downsides."
Those downsides include baby blues, anxiety and other hormonal changes that can cause havoc before and after birth. In Stark's case, she said the pills worked.
"It was my husband's first day back at work, and my mom was here, and there was a lot going on. I was totally overwhelmed and about to lose it. That's when Jodi (Selander) came back to give me my pills. I took them, and literally 30 minutes later, I was in this blessed-out state. I was happy. I felt calm," Stark said.
Stark had the help of the Jodi Selander, known as the Placenta Lady. Selander started studying the benefits of placenta consumption while pregnant with her second child in 2005. She said after her first baby was born she didn't feel normal for about three months but the second time she had a completely different experience.
"I never felt overwhelmed. I never felt overly emotional or weepy, or like I couldn't handle the situation. And I felt great almost immediately after having my second daughter, and this was not only with a newborn but a 3 year old at home as well, so it was an amazing difference," Selander said.
After that Selander wanted to share the news. She started speaking at natural birth meetings and eventually coined the phrase "placenta encapsulation." She dries and pulverizes it before turning it in to capsules. Mothers take it just like a vitamin.
Selander also created the certification process and trains quality specialists all over North America. Her website, PlacentaBenefits.info, connects them with interested mothers.
Selander said just a few years back she was doing about one placenta a month, but now she's up to 20, about the most she can handle while raising three daughters.
"It has totally exploded from word of mouth," Selander said.
She said the reason this works is because in the womb, the placenta transfers nutrients from mom to baby. So the idea is the placenta's hormones and nutrients benefit mom after birth when her hormones crash.
Not much research on this has been done except in lab rats, but about five years ago Selander inspired UNLV to spearhead the research in humans.
UNLV Anthropology Professor Daniel Benyshek and doctoral student Sharon Young published their first study in 2010. They found nearly all non-human primates and mammal mothers eat their placentas. They said it was hard to find evidence of that in humans worldwide until more modern times.
"In the early 1970s, there was an article that referenced an incident in the late '60s, I think 1969, where a mother gave birth in a communal setting and the midwife, who delivered the baby, prepared the placenta in a meal for her to share with everyone. So they all engaged in this process together," Young said.
So for UNLV's latest study, they really had to start at square one. They studied nearly 200 women who did it and asked what their motivations were, how it was prepared and if they would do it again. Seventy-six percent of the women responded with positive experiences.
"They did report improvements in mood. That was the most commonly reported benefit. They reported increased energy, which was interesting because they didn't put that as a motivation, also increased milk production and the like," Benyshek said.
When it comes to preparation, there are many ways to do it.
"Some blended it into shakes or smoothies; some cooked it as well," Benyshek said.
But the majority took it in pill form.
They also said this isn't a practice for so-called hippies.
"The majority were Caucasian, with an income over $50,000 a year and were college educated," Young said.
She added they were surprised to find many of the mothers also gave birth in a hospital as opposed to at home.
The study showed among the negatives of placenta consumption is the idea that some women are put off by it. There were also some complaints of belching and headaches.
UNLV has much more research to do. They next want to do a placebo study to see if the placenta really makes a difference.
They also want to study the placenta tissue to see if the nutrients vary depending on how it's prepared.
They also want to check contaminants. The placenta acts as a filter to protect the baby from toxins, so they want to see if that ends up back in mom or in her breast milk.
Selander said every hospital in the Valley will release placentas to the mothers, they just need to ask. Years ago, one hospital refused, but Selander lead the charge to change that.
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