In Search of Human Placentophagy: A Cross-Cultural Survey of Human Placenta Consumption, Disposal Practices, and Cultural Beliefs

Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-5003, USA.
Ecology of Food and Nutrition (Impact Factor: 0.81). 11/2010; 49(6):467-84. DOI: 10.1080/03670244.2010.524106
Source: PubMed


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.

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    • "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). "
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    ABSTRACT: Parturient females ingest placenta in most mammalian species, whereas fathers may do so in species in which both parents provide care for their offspring. To determine if the propensity to eat placenta varies with reproductive status in the biparental California mouse, we presented placenta to virgin (housed with a same-sex pairmate), expectant (pregnant with their first litter), and multiparous adult males and females. Liver was presented identically, 3-7 days later, as a control. Multiparous females were more likely to eat placenta than expectant and virgin females (p-values <0.016), whereas both multiparous and expectant males had higher incidences of placentophagia than virgins (p-values <0.016). Liver consumption did not differ among groups within either sex. These results suggest that propensity to eat placenta increases with maternal/birthing experience in females, and with paternal experience and/or cohabitation with a pregnant female in males. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 9999: 1-9, 2013.
    Developmental Psychobiology 05/2014; 56(4). DOI:10.1002/dev.21154 · 3.31 Impact Factor
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    • "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. "
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    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
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    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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