The idea might sound off-putting to many, but around one in three women who have home births choose to eat their own placenta after birth, in the belief that it helps boost their mental health, energy levels and milk production.
The practice, known as placentophagy, has been given a boost with the news that Millie Mackintosh, 32, the former Made In Chelsea star, is planning to eat her placenta after her baby girl is born in the next few weeks.
The confectionary heiress, who already has a one-year-old daughter, Sienna, announced last week that she intended to have her placenta made into pills, following in the footsteps of Coleen Rooney and Kim Kardashian.
The notion of consuming the placenta was started by supporters of the natural birth movement in the 1970s. These days it’s eaten raw in a smoothie, cooked, or dehydrated in capsule form. But does the science back it up?
Millie Mackintosh, 32, the former Made In Chelsea star, is planning to eat her placenta after her baby girl is born in the next few weeks. The confectionary heiress, who already has a one-year-old daughter, Sienna, announced last week that she intended to have her placenta made into pills, following in the footsteps of Coleen Rooney and Kim Kardashian
The placenta passes oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood supply, through the umbilical cord, to the baby. It is a complex organ that is rich in hormones, including progesterone, oestrogen, oxytocin and human placental lactogen which may aid milk production, as well as vitamins B6 and E, and stem cells.
However, the doses of these hormones and nutrients — and the extent to which they are degraded by cooking or dehydrating — are not known.
Research on animals published in 2012 showed that mammals that eat their placentas bond better with their young. It also enhances the new mother’s pain threshold.
A more recent study in the journal Women and Birth in 2017 found that women who took placenta pills experience small changes in hormone concentrations, including oestrogen and progesterone, which may help reduce the rapid drop of these hormones after birth.
Meanwhile, researchers in Nevada in the U.S. have found that placenta pills did almost nothing to improve maternal fatigue or ward off depression.
And a study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada in 2019, which looked at data from 138 women with a history of mood disorders during pregnancy, found those who ate their placenta were no more or less likely to suffer from postnatal depression than those who did not. The study saw no benefits in terms of mood, energy or milk production.
But for those who choose to do this, there are multiple websites to tell you how to make your placenta into a range of meals and snacks.
Or you can call in the professionals, who will collect the (chilled) placenta shortly after the birth. These ‘placenta remedy specialists’ have to be registered with their local council as food handlers. They then thoroughly wash it before turning it into remedies.
Carly Lewis is a placenta remedies specialist approved by Waverley Borough Council in Surrey to work in her own placenta kitchen. She is also the chair of the Placenta Remedies Network, which represents 59 practitioners around the world.
‘I have seen for myself the effect that placenta remedies can have on women in the immediate period after birth,’ she says. ‘The difference was huge and it was wonderful.’
Placentas of women diagnosed with infections must be discarded. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. issued a warning about placenta capsules following a case in which a newborn infant developed sepsis in 2016 after the mother consumed contaminated placenta capsules.
Raw placenta smoothies are considered the most potent remedies, but according to a review of internet forums published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth in 2020, eating placenta pills is by far the most common method of consumption.
To turn it into pills, the placenta is steamed and dried, before being used to fill capsules — this costs around £250.
Mike Bowen, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist based in Wales, suggests that even though NHS midwives are now used to dealing with expectant mothers who bring chiller boxes for their placentas to take them home, there are ‘too many ‘what ifs’ ‘ to recommend the practice.
…And do Mick’s light therapy glasses actually work?
What was Sir Mick Jagger wearing on that Miami hotel balcony? The Rolling Stones singer was pictured in a pair of futuristic light therapy glasses the morning before the band’s final world tour date.
Some thought he was trying to banish the winter blues — light therapy can ease Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — although he was in sunny Florida.
In fact, the Re-Timer device is used to reset the body clock to tackle jet lag. If you’re flying east, you wear the glasses for 60 minutes, three mornings before travel, then for three days after arrival. If going west, wear them for 60 minutes for three evenings before, and three days after, travel.
Jet lag is caused by a misalignment between your body clock and your destination time. Bright light is thought to re-set the body clock and sleep patterns.
The Re-Timer glasses have four LED lights that stimulate the brain’s pineal gland, responsible for body clock regulation, their inventor, Professor Leon Lack of Flinders University in Australia, told Good Health. ‘Our extensive research studies have shown that green light, used in the Re-Timer, is one of the most effective wavelengths for advancing or delaying the body clock.’ Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at Northumbria University, says the principle behind the glasses ‘does make sense’.
Light suppresses the hormone melatonin — levels usually peak at night and prepare the body for sleep. He says portable devices with about 500 lux brightness (a living room is some 200-300 lux), can deliver enough light to be effective as they concentrate light.
A 2015 study, published in the journal Sleep and Biological Rhythms, found the Re-Timer headset to be effective at shifting the body clock, but some people had headaches and eye irritation. And the glasses are not cheap at £189 a pair.