Why a 'Girls' Star Ate Her Placenta

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Actress Gaby Hoffman looked better than ever at the Season 4 premiere of HBO’s Girls Monday night, despite being in the throes of that new-mom haze. The series guest star, who welcomed a daughter on November 19, credits her post-pregnancy glow to one thing:  “Placenta! Placenta! Placenta!”

Hoffman told Yahoo Style that she includes pieces of her placenta in shakes, and that it works wonders. “My doula cut it up in 20 pieces and I just made smoothies,” she said.  “You mix it with strawberries, bananas, tons of fruit, you can’t taste it! But you can feel it.”

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The practice of doing something with the placenta – whether that be ingesting it, or something more spiritual like burying it – is observed in many cultures. In the U.S., eating the placenta, or taking it in pill form, is becoming increasingly popular among new moms. Some credit it with a boost in energy and milk production, others claim it helps ward off the dreaded baby blues. And Hoffman isn’t the only celeb to sing its praises. Actresses Alicia Silverstone and January Jones have both spoken publicly about how much they enjoyed the effect of taking placenta pills.

To date, there have been no scientific studies looking into the benefits of placentophagia, the scientific term for consuming placenta, for new mothers. “There is no data supporting this practice,” Dr. Eve Feinberg, a Reproductive Endocrinologist at the Fertility Centers of Illinois, tells Yahoo Parenting. Placenta pills – or placenta in other forms – are also not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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Despite a lack scientific evidence, one small anecdotal survey came down on the pro-placenta side. In a survey of 189 women who consumed their placentas after childbirth, 76 percent reported having a “very positive” experience. The results, gathered by anthropologists at University of Nevada Las Vegas, were published in the journal Ecology, Food and Nutrition.

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Rachel Holtzman, mom to a 19-month-old son and a collaborator on Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Mama, drank smoothies with pieces of her placenta in them in the weeks following childbirth and says she’s glad she did. Originally, Holtzman had planned to encapsulate her placenta and take it in pill form, but after having trouble with her milk production due to damaged milk ducts from a breast reduction, a lactation consultant told her it would be more effective to take in raw form. “It’s so hard to say if if helped because I was already coming from a place of panic regarding my breastmilk, but I did enjoy those smoothies – intuitively, I felt nurtured by them,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “When my placenta was gone, I felt bad. This piece of me that I had created was gone and I mourned that a little bit.”

Holtzman isn’t confident whether the pills directly helped her milk production. “The way people were describing it to me, I thought I would wake up the next day engorged. But I had a breast reduction, my milk ducts were damaged, placenta smoothies weren’t going to fix that,” she says. “So I don’t have a quatitative way to know if it helped breastmilk production. Did it elevate my mood? There was something calming about it, and I don’t know if it was the practice of it or the qualities of it. And even though I didn’t have that dramatic ‘the heavens are opening’ moment, I still recommend it because it’s still honoring another piece of the birth process.”

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Also, she’s quick to point out, the placenta didn’t taste weird. “When it’s ground up with a bunch of frozen bananas and almond butter, you never taste it,” she says.

Claudia Booker, a certified professional midwife, is a proponent of “taking placenta as medicine” and offers the service of placenta encapsulation to her clients. Booker, who studied traditional Chinese medicine for 12 years (a practice which has long promoted placenta consumption), says that it not only helps with breastmilk production and leveling off the hormonal shifts that can cause baby blues, but that it also wards off so-called mommy brain. “Ten or 12 days after you’ve delivered, when everyone has gone home and your partner is back to work and you’re alone and your nipples hurt and you smell bad and you’re tired…. To have that extra energy, and the hormones and oxygen, it really helps you through,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.

When Booker has a client who wants placenta encapsulation, she instructs the mom to tell her doctor in advance, and to let the nurses know when she arrives at the hospital for delivery. Some hospitals, she says, require patients to sign a release before taking their placenta home. Once the baby is delivered, the placenta is double-bagged in two gallon-sized ziplock bags, and Booker brings it home, where she cleans it, steams it, cuts it up and puts places it into a commercial dehydrator. After 12 or 13 hours in the dehydrator, she puts it into a coffee grinder, and puts the resulting dust-like substance into individual capsules and delivers them back to the mom. The whole process, including picking up the placenta and delivering it back to the parents, costs her clients $275.

Once mothers have the pills in hand, Booker recommends taking one pill twice a day.  “I tell my clients to think of it like taking vitamins,” she says. “That majority of women who aren’t interested in it say they think it’s yucky.”

Holtzman says moms should make their own call, but keep an open mind. “The bottom line is, is there science on whether it’s good? No. But there isn’t science on whether it’s bad,” she says. “If you think about what your body has done and you are wondering how you can give back to it, this is something to try.” 

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