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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Why eat a placenta?
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
The Magazine answers...

Newborn baby
There are no medical benefits to eating placenta, says obstetrician
Tom Cruise made the front pages by joking that he was going to eat the placenta when his fiancee gave birth. Are there really any medical benefits to eating a placenta?

Into the roasting pan, put one onion, red pepper, tomato sauce, bay leaves, pepper, salt and a clove of garlic... and 1 to 3lbs of placenta.

Is this recipe for cooking a placenta a wholesome idea, feeding the new mother in the way nature intended? Or is it something that seems very unnatural and more likely to inspire queasiness than post-birth nourishment?

The issue of eating the placenta - the afterbirth delivered from a mother following the birth of a baby - has been sparked again by front-page reports that Hollywood star Tom Cruise had been planning to eat the placenta when his fiancee gave birth.

Although in an interview with a US television news network, Cruise denied such a suggestion.

Young wives' tale

But there has been a longstanding belief among some new mothers that eating the placenta can yield benefits.

WHO, WHAT, WHY?
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A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

One supposed reason is that it can reduce the incidence of post-natal depression. It has also been claimed to have nutritional properties needed by women after childbirth.

But consultant obstetrician Maggie Blott dismisses the post-natal depression theory. In fact, says Dr Blott, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, there's no medical justification at all.

"Animals eat their placenta to get nutrition - but when people are already well-nourished, there is no benefit, there is no reason to do it," she says.

'Placentophagia'

In two decades of medical practice, she says only a handful of women have taken home their placenta to eat, while others have used them in symbolic garden burials.

Hawaii
In Hawaii, there has been a custom to plant the placenta with a tree

If the most usual way of treating the placenta in the West is to incinerate it, there are other cultures in which it has a special place in rituals following a birth.

In Hawaii, there have been legal moves in recent weeks to give parents the right to take home a placenta from hospital - because of a native Hawaiian belief that the placenta is part of the child.

There is a Hawaiian tradition that the placenta should be planted with a tree, which would then grow alongside the child - and parents have been angered when hospitals have obstructed them from taking the placenta.

If "placentophagia" - the practice of eating the placenta - remains a minority activity, there have been other applications.

How about placenta art? Pregnancy websites have some handy hints for mothers-to-be about how they could use their placenta in making prints, using the placenta to make patterns on paper.

"Many parents have found this to be a fun activity as well as giving them a very unique, artistic keepsake of their pregnancy," suggests one of these online parenting guides.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

It is interesting that you mentioned the Hawaiian tradition , here in Malaysia it is comman practice for the hospitals to give the placenta to Malay parents for them to bury. In fact when I had my first child over 25 years ago I was very confused when the nurse offered it to me.
Clare Maria Whelan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I would suggest that it is not only Hawaiian people who share this belief as it seems to be common to many Pacific peoples. In New Zealand (Aoterearoa) Maori have a name for belonging to a place they call it their Turangawaiwai, which is also their name for the placenta. It is an increasingly common practise for many New Zealanders of all ethnic origins to take the placenta home and plant a tree over it. Our children really appreciate it. 29 years on my daughter knows where she belongs. Under the walnut tree in Nanna's garden.
Amanda, Auckland New Zealand

Is it really any stranger for the mother to eat her placenta, than for hospitals to sell placentas to cosmetic companies to be used in skincare products? Personally, I think I'd rather plant it with a tree.
Cathy, Wellington, New Zealand

After giving birth 11 days ago, my sister ate her placenta with a plate of chips. As for the baby - it's a girl!
LH, Tyne & Wear

Placenta art? Takes guts, I suppose....
Rachel, Perth, Australia

I'd say that eating the placenta is akin to cannibalism. You wouldn't eat a human stomach or intestines, so why eat another part of the body?
Pat, Sydney, Australia

I thought animals ate their placentas to get rid of evidence of a newborn to prevent alerting predators. Cows eat their placenta but are otherwise herbivores, which surely doesn't support the nutrition argument. (I know they will eat bone meal and protein supplements if they are fed them but we all know the results of that!).
Fiona, Wellington

Gross!!!
Praveen, NY

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