October 27, 2023
Callie Landis makes a living dehydrating placentas for new moms to eat. As founder of Lancaster Placenta Company, a lab in her Pennsylvania home town, she takes the organs moms send her and turns them into capsules, tinctures, and balms, reports The Guardian.
No one doubts that the placenta keeps a fetus healthy. The organ attaches to the uterus, delivering nutrients via the umbilical cord, and gets delivered shortly after the baby.
But evangelists of placenta-eating can easily rattle off a list of the practices’s supposed benefits for the mother after birth, too: They say it aids in breast milk production, reduces the effects of postpartum depression, and helps with general postnatal healing.
Celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Chrissy Teigen, Mandy Moore, and more than one Kardashian swear by placentophagy, its official name. Last week, the reality TV star Kailyn Lowry posted photos of a placenta smoothie made with the help of Landis’s lab—a frothy, strawberry-colored beverage that she blended in her kitchen and served through a mason jar.
Traditionally, the practice is mostly used by midwives or doulas who present the postpartum snack in domestic settings. You might imagine a new mother eating a placenta that’s been cooked with spices and herbs (like ginger or garlic) a few hours after she’s had a home birth. But now, companies like Lancaster Placenta Co. have rebranded placentophagy as lab-grade and mess-free, giving birth to a mini-industry of placenta encapsulation.
“The celebrities have really helped this go mainstream,” Landis said. “They took the image of it away from only being about those crunchy, granola, natural remedy moms.”
Mommy Made Encapsulation, with locations in five states, is another such company, with celebrity clients that include Ashlee Simpson, Shay Mitchell, Jenna Dewan and “all of the Vanderpump girls” of the reality show Vanderpump Rules, according to the its founder, Juliane Corona.
“To date, we’ve done 300,000 encapsulations,” Corona said. “These celebrities and influencers really propelled my business. They’ve allowed moms to feel like they weren’t the only crazy person who wanted to do it. They’ll say, ‘Oh, so-and-so did this and her baby didn’t get sick.’”
But in at least one case, a baby did get sick when its mother ingested an infected placenta. In 2017, the CDC warned against the practice after an Oregon baby was diagnosed with a strep infection. His mother had eaten dried placenta capsules (although the capsules could not definitively be ruled as the culprit). “That’s the case that still haunts everyone in the industry,” Corona said.
That’s partly why some encapsulation companies stress that they follow U.S. government standards for safe food handling. “I’ll go on TikTok and see women who are encapsulating and their hair isn’t covered, they’re in a kitchen with porous surfaces, and there are all these potentially hazardous practices,” Corona said.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the professional association of OB-GYNs, does not have specific guidance on placentophagy. But a spokesperson for the association referred The Guardian to a 2017 study that found “no scientific evidence of any clinical benefit of placentophagy among humans, and no placental nutrients and hormones are retained in sufficient amounts after placenta encapsulation to be potentially helpful to the mother postpartum.”
In another study, researchers who reviewed roughly 23,000 birth records found no increased risk to babies of mothers who ate their placenta compared with those whose mothers did not. There is no FDA oversight or regulation of the practice.
For now, the industry relies heavily on anecdotal evidence—as do most wellness trends backed by enthusiastic practitioners, but sketchy science. “It’s so hard because there’s not enough research out there to prove it one way or another,” Corona said. “I tell women, in life there is no guarantee with anything, but what I can say is, if it helps you have less sad days, that’s a good thing.”
Research contact: @guardian