Some women want to eat their placentas—and Texas hospitals can't stop them

It's an issue of 'liberty,' Texas lawmaker says

A recently passed Texas law will require hospitals to allow women to take home their placentas after giving birth, despite doctors' insistence that there are no tangible health benefits—and could be real harms—from consuming them, Carrie Feibel writes for NPR's "Shots."

Placenta is sometimes referred to as "afterbirth" and can be dehydrated and broken down into small edible capsules.

Doctors skeptical

Many hospitals bar patients from taking their placentas home out of concern they could carry infectious diseases. Even when Texas becomes the third state—joining Hawaii and Oregon—with a placenta law when its measure goes into effect next year, the state will still require women to test negative for infectious diseases and sign a liability waiver to take their placentas from the hospital.

Some midwives and doulas insist that placenta helps women prevent postpartum depression, ensure successful breastfeeding, and recover from childbirth. But researchers say such claims likely are the result of the placebo effect, Feibel says.

Why more patients are picking a midwife instead of a physician

While the placenta likely has health benefits during pregnancy, science does not support there being health benefits from women eating the afterbirth, says Catherine Spong, deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She says the institute "[doesn't] have any studies" on the question.

Mark Kristal, a behavioral neuroscientist with the State University of New York at Buffalo, says cooking the placenta and making it a pill actually destroys the potentially helpful chemical in it—and that eating raw placenta is dangerous since it could include toxic or harmful waste.

Kristal adds that while some mammals eat their placentas because it helps ease the pain of giving birth, humans have evolved away from mimicking the practice. "It's not a routine human behavior," he says.

How to have a safe birth? 'Stay away from obstetricians … until you need one.'

Push for placenta laws

But some patients continue to insist on their right to take their placentas from the hospital.

Melissa Mathis during her pregnancy asked Dallas hospital administrators if she could take her placenta home after hearing from friends that it could be beneficial. When hospital officials responded with vague answers, she decided to take matters into her own hands. "As far as I was concerned it was a part of my body that was in my body," Mathis says.

Mathis decided to steal the placenta from the hospital after she gave birth. "[My husband and I] were able to grab it, and we got it and put it in a cooler and threw it in a backpack and my husband handed it off to the placenta handler in the lobby of the hospital," she recalls. "That's not ideal. And, in my opinion, that's not acceptable."

Mathis then wrote to her state Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R), who eventually authored the new Texas law.

Sheets explains, "It seemed like an issue that involves freedom and liberty and just a basic right and we just decided we'd take it on" (Feibel, "Shots," NPR, 6/28).

The takeaway: Texas recently passed a law allowing patients to take home their placenta after giving birth, despite the fact that there is no direct scientific evidence linking the consumption of placenta to better post-pregnancy outcomes.

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