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Kristal, one of the few to study the practice, believes it has more to do with bonding.
"Animals do things because it looks good, feels good, smells good and tastes good," he said. "When the infant comes out in amniotic fluid, it increases the attractiveness of the infant, guaranteeing that the female interacts with it right away [by licking it clean]."
Human consumption of placentas is a modern practice that appears to have arisen with the home-birthing movement. Popularized by celebrities such as “Mad Men” star January Jones and Kim Kardashian, it is capturing the imagination of mainstream America.
As a side benefit, eating the placenta also has an analgesic effect, easing the animal’s pain, said Kristal. The active ingredient is a peptide, he said. "We know that, but we haven’t identified it."
But anthropological surveys have found no evidence of the practice among humans, he said. "In any cultures where it’s mentioned, it’s mentioned as a taboo."
There is a placenta preparation used in Chinese herbal medicine, but in combination with other herbs and for a variety of disorders, he said. "There could be an evolutionary reason why humans don’t eat placentas."
There’s no proof that it’s harmful, though.
"We don’t advocate for or against it," said Tenort from University Hospital. "Our goal is to honor the patients’ rights and to make their birthing experience the experience that they want to have."
A fair number of placentas wind up in pathology if doctors suspect an infection or anomaly, but legally the organ belongs to the mother, she said.
Raw, dried, or mixed with herbs » There are more than half-a-dozen encapsulators in Utah, mostly doulas and midwives. Some dry the placentas in their oven on cookie sheets. Others add medicinal herbs to the capsules, which Curtis eschews because they could trigger an adverse reaction, ruining the entire batch and wasting the placenta.
"I don’t support the practice of eating it raw," she said, "because you’re messing with bacteria that could be present."
She rinses each placenta to remove blood clots and meconium, examines it for anomalies and steams it for 10 to 12 minutes each side.
All equipment and work surfaces are sanitized with a bleach solution. "I wear a fresh pair of gloves for every stage of preparation," she said.
Patients must keep their placenta refrigerated and arrange to have it delivered to her within 24 to 48 hours of the birth. And their doctor must sign a form detailing results of testing for blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS.
Customer satisfaction is high. She encapsulates about 18 to 20 placentas a month, upward of 200 since she opened shop in 2011.
The basic package, a bottle of capsules and an umbilical cord keepsake (a piece of the cord dried into the shape of a heart) goes for $200. For a little extra she’ll also prepare an alcohol-based, placenta tincture that "keeps forever" and can be used to shorten menstrual periods, she said.
‘My mom gut took over’ » Provo resident Tiffany Strong, 32, was looking for something to avoid the baby blues she experienced with her first child.
"I was willing to try anything," she said. "My mom gut took over. There might not be that much research medically, but if all these moms say it works, and there isn’t much risk, why not?"
With 8-month-old Dexter, she’s had no bouts of sadness, freeing her from having to take antidepressants and worrying about whether they’re safe for the breastfeeding baby.
"I take the pills whenever, one or two a day to boost my energy or if it has been a hard, stressful day," saidNext Page >
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