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If you've ever suffered from postpartum depression, you know what a crippling hurdle it can be during what is arguably a transitional and tumultuous time in a woman's life. Depression in general can be overwhelming, and learning to care for a newborn as you navigate it can seem for some almost too much to bear. There is a tried-and-true remedy for postpartum depression though: eating your placenta. And while this practice has been used for centuries without issue, it's causing controversy as the European Union's European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently ruled to reclassify placenta as a "novel food."
This classification, which was created to protect consumers from genetically modified and cloned food sources, basically states that the food in question had no significant consumption within the EU prior to May 15, 1997. This new ruling would require anyone offering a service which prepares a placenta for consumption to be licensed and regulated. Detractors from the EFSA ruling say licensing is expensive and time-consuming, taking up to three years to complete. Because of this potential delay in services to moms, women's rights advocates are up in arms over the ruling saying it interferes with a woman's right to use her body as she chooses. Advocates of the ruling claim it is for the protection of women, providing regulation over a previously unregulated sector of business.
Not that weird, or new
As strange as it may sound to some, the practice of ingesting your own placenta postpartum, or placentophagy, is extremely common among mammals. In fact, of the over 4,000 species of Eutherian mammals there are very few who don't regularly consume it post-birth. Humans are Eutherian mammals, so why should we be the exception rather than the norm? Historically, many cultures have encouraged placental consumption, and it has been documented as a practice in Chinese medicinal text from the late 1500s. It's become more popular over the years as the benefits are being more openly touted and people are seeking more natural remedies for ailments. The most common methods of ingestion are to dehydrate and then crush the placenta encapsulating it in pill shells, or to mix it into a smoothie and drink.
Benefits > risk
The only risk involved with placentophagy for the mother consuming her own placenta is possible bacterial contamination — the same risk associated with any food consumption. And while no scientific studies have confirmed this, doulas, midwifes and moms who have done it rave about the postpartum benefits. Reduced bleeding. Increased energy. Higher iron and more balanced hormonal levels. Faster uterine recovery. And, perhaps most importantly, a drastic decrease in the occurrence of postpartum depression. In fact, for women who consume their placentas post-birth, postpartum depression is practically nonexistent.
April, mother of three, encapsulated her placenta herself after the birth of her third child. "I suffered from severe postpartum depression after I had my first two children. After reading about all of the benefits in placenta consumption, including helping with postpartum depression, I figured I'd give it a try." Rather than hire a service, April chose to self-encapsulate. She found the directions online, spent about $40 on supplies — including a standard food dehydrator — and it took about six hours. April said the difference the placenta consumption made was staggering: "I had so much energy and was overall in very good spirits. I never got the baby blues or depression. In fact, there were times when I would just cry out of sheer happiness. It was a 180 (degree difference) from my other two postpartum experiences."
The ruling isn't as bad as some think
While the ruling may seem intrusive at first, it really is just attempting to provide regulation for something prepared for human consumption. There is no ban on the ingesting of the placenta, or on the making of the pills yourself — just a ban on people preparing it and selling it without licensing, whether in pill or smoothie form. Even if the "novel food" distinction sticks and it becomes difficult to hire the service out, expecting EU moms should still consider self-encapsulation at home. Says April: "I'm an advocate for placenta encapsulation especially if you have suffered from baby blues or postpartum depression. The benefits are there and they are real. Everyone needs to know that this is an option and it should for sure be considered."