Maternal placentophagy, the consumption of the placenta or "afterbirth" by the mother following parturition, is an ubiquitous behavior among eutherian mammals, including non-human primates. Here we report on a cross-cultural survey of 179 human societies regarding the consumption, treatment, and disposal of human placenta, in addition to accompanying cultural beliefs and perceptions about the organ. The conspicuous absence of cultural traditions associated with maternal placentophagy in the cross-cultural ethnographic record raises interesting questions relative to its ubiquitous presence among nearly all other mammals, and the reasons for its absence (or extreme rarity) among prehistoric/historic and contemporary human cultures.
"Placentophagia, or the process of ingesting placenta (and amniotic fluid) during and after parturition, is common among mammals, with only a few exceptions (humans: Young & Benyshek, 2010; semi-aquatic and aquatic mammals, camelids: Young, Benyshek, & Lienard, 2012). This behavior has been proposed to enhance maternal responsiveness, potentially by priming the mother's brain through the diverse hormonal content found in placenta (Kristal, DiPirro, & Thompson, 2012; Melo & González-Mariscal, 2003). "
"In the latter group, particularly cetaceans, a rather explosive expulsion of the placenta into sea water immediately dilutes the chemical constituents of the afterbirth, and the behavior of the mother focuses on keeping the young breathing at the surface of the water. Other exceptions have been noted (e.g., Lehrman 1961; Young and Benyshek 2010), but among these are domestic animals (e.g., camelids—widely cited as an exception [Lehrman 1961; Young and Benyshek 2010] but for which there is little empirical evidence) whose behaviors are sometimes suspect because of selective breeding or conditions of captivity. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Afterbirth ingestion by nonhuman mammalian mothers has a number of benefits: (1) increasing the interaction between the mother and infant; (2) potentiating pregnancy-mediated analgesia in the delivering mother; (3) potentiating maternal brain opioid circuits that facilitate the onset of caretaking behavior; and (4) suppressing postpartum pseudopregnancy. Childbirth is fraught with additional problems for which there are no practical nonhuman animal models: postpartum depression, failure to bond, hostility toward infants. Ingested afterbirth may contain components that ameliorate these problems, but the issue has not been tested empirically. The results of such studies, if positive, will be medically relevant. If negative, speculations and recommendations will persist, as it is not possible to prove the negative. A more challenging anthropological question is "why don't humans engage in placentophagia as a biological imperative?" Is it possible that there is more adaptive advantage in not doing so?
Ecology of Food and Nutrition 05/2012; 51(3):177-97. DOI:10.1080/03670244.2012.661325 · 0.81 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The absence of human placentophagy, the maternal consumption of the afterbirth, is puzzling given its ubiquity and probable adaptive value in other mammals. We propose that human fire use may have led to placentophagy avoidance in our species. In our environment of evolutionary adaptedness, gravid women would likely have been regularly exposed to smoke and ash, which is known to contain harmful substances. Because the placenta filters some toxicants which then accumulate there across pregnancy, maternal placentophagy may have had deleterious consequences for the overall fitness of mother, offspring, or both, leading to its elimination from our species' behavioral repertoire.
Ecology of Food and Nutrition 05/2012; 51(3):198-217. DOI:10.1080/03670244.2012.661349 · 0.81 Impact Factor
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