RSVP Montgomery

A Tough Pill to Swallow

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017

Dr. Brian Richardson
As a boy from South Alabama, I was raised on a traditional Southern cuisine. I will always remember those special occasions coming home to visit my parents and my mom would always ask for dinner request. A typical mom-favorite might include homemade chicken ’n dumplings, black-eyed peas, fried okra or maybe a nice meatloaf. I used to think there could be no better meal than the food cooked with love by my mother. It was predictable. It was consistent. It was good! As I moved outside of Alabama and began expanding my culinary taste buds, I grew to enjoy other unique foods. Sushi quickly became a favorite food of mine. I remember the expression on my parent’s faces when I told them I had just indulged in a nice piece of raw tuna- they were just shy of disgusted. 

We can all think of things we once turned our nose up to and now find quite delightful. However, there is one unique culinary item that I just can’t quite wrap my mind around. Placentophagy is the practice of consuming the placenta after child delivery. I’m not sure I would even mention this postpartum delicacy at the dinner table without receiving some upside down smiles in my direction. My naturally curious mind and a few recent conversations have led me to further inquire about this somewhat new and controversial practice. 
As I began preparing for this topic, I did have a discussion with my good friend Dr. Jason Gentry, an OB-GYN here in Montgomery. Apparently, although the practice is not common in Montgomery, there are those among us who have consumed the afterbirth. Typically, the decision needs to be made well in advance of the delivery and proper arrangements will need to be made. After the delivery, the placenta is harvested by a company representative who will then process the placenta into the delicacy of your choice. Popular options may include making a placenta, strawberry and banana smoothie, making a nice pate’, a pepperoni like pizza dish is an option, or some may do it like they do it at the Florabama- eat it raw like an oyster. I’m not sure how much hot sauce and crackers I would need, but I’m thinking a bottle of Sriracha would be about right. A new method some mothers may choose is to have the placenta encapsulated and take it in the pill form. I think taking a pill takes the excitement out of the experience. 
I consider myself a pretty rational person, and I had to seek out the motivation for this en vogue idea. Experts like Alicia Silverspoon and one of the Kardashians have testified that this practice may reduce the risk of postpartum depression, improve breast milk production and promote healing after delivery. Other experts in the medical field worry about the unintended and unknown consequences of eating the raw placenta or human parts. There is no question the placenta is a nutrient-rich organ that provides the perfect amount of nourishment to a developing baby. The question remains whether the placenta offers any benefit to the mother. A recent case was published that linked an infant’s bacterial infection to the passage of bacteria from the placenta thru the breast milk to the baby. The baby was treated appropriately and no long-term consequences were experienced. 
Another interesting justification of this behavior relies on the practice of other mammals. Since I was not raised on a farm and never spent much time watching live animal births, I also needed to rely on the expert testimony of others. I have now been formally educated on the common practice of animal placentophagy. I’m not sure my eldest dog, Abita, would participate in this practice, but my youngest dog, Sophie, has no problem eating dirt and Abita’s poop, so I could imagine her indulging in a placenta, raw-oyster style. 
There are currently studies underway which aim to determine if placenophagy is actually beneficial to the postpartum mother. Until those studies have resulted, we must rely on opinions and anecdotal evidence. But you know what they say about opinions, they’re like bellybuttons - everybody has one. So, if you are currently pregnant or are blessed to carry a child one day, I would encourage you to seek out further medical evidence when considering placentophagy. Alicia Silverspoon starred in many popular movies, and I would submit to you her hit film “Clueless” might be descriptive of her expert opinion when it involves medical matters.

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