Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

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THERE are some things you don't know until you become pregnant with your first child: that you can see your baby's heartbeat in an ultrasound long before it can be heard. That the twitch in your side is the beginning of a kick. That some people think it's a good idea to eat your own placenta after the birth.

Yes, that last one seems to surprise many mothers -- even though humans are among the few mammals that don't eat their own placentas.

In some cultures, people bury the placenta and later plant a tree over it to honour new life. Other mothers make prints of the placenta, either with its blood or with colored paint, as keepsakes.

Then there are those who believe that the placenta's nutritional value can benefit the new mother after childbirth.

The most commonly cited benefit of placenta consumption is it helps balance hormones and thereby combats postpartum depression. Some also claim it boosts milk production, helps the uterus contract and replenishes lost nutrients after childbirth. Websites suggest using it in recipes like any other organ meat, pan frying it or cooking it in lasagna. Some mothers have used it raw in smoothies.

If all this sounds too cannibalistic, there are "placenta encapsulation specialists," often midwives or doulas, who transform the placenta from its messy postpartum condition into neat, sometimes even flavoured, pills. Mad Men actress January Jones told People magazine she began taking placenta pills after giving birth last fall and credits them with helping her bounce back quickly. "It's not witchcrafty or anything! I suggest it to all moms," she told People.

Scientists, however, tend to be skeptical about the benefits of placentophagia to humans.

"Most of the assumptions (about human placenta consumption) come from extrapolations from animal work, anecdotes and suppositions. But none of it comes from scientific data," said Mark Kristal, a behavioural neuroscientist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who researches placentophagia in animals.

-- Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 J2

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