In Nigeria, different tribes or cultures have ways of disposing of a woman’s afterbirth (the placenta). Some bury it, some burn it and some still believe that it has a spiritual attachment to the baby and disposes of it carefully.
Others who don’t want to be bothered looking for the best site for burying or burning it, simply allow the hospitals where they delivered their babies to dispose of it.
The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. This structure provides oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby and removes waste products from your baby’s blood.
The placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus, and the baby’s umbilical cord arises from it. Placental expulsion occurs when the placenta comes out of the birth canal after childbirth.
The body rids itself of the placenta vaginally in a vaginal birth or by a surgeon if it is a Cesarean-section or C-Section.
The Igbo people of South-East Nigeria bury it after delivery and sometimes plant an economic tree where it was buried.
The Hausas in Northern Nigeria bury theirs as well and the Yorubas of South-West Nigeria also bury the placenta.
However, they are very careful to place it in containers or clay pots, where it will not be easily discovered and dug up by animals.
The Yorubas, like most other tribes in Nigeria, have a spiritual attachment to it and believe that if anything goes wrong in its disposal, it may taint the person for life.
In fact, they would ask a troublesome person, “Se aja gbe ibi omo e je’’, meaning “Did a dog eat up your placenta?’’
There is a particular religious group where the members anoint, pray and burn the placenta. The ash is then dispersed in the air. It is their belief that by doing so, nobody can dig it up for any rituals.
But following the advocacy by some international celebrities, encouraging women to eat their placenta for certain health benefits, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a second thought before deciding to join the bandwagon.
One such celebrity, Kim Kardashian West, revealed in December 2015, after she had her second baby, Saint West that she ate her placenta to ward off postpartum depression. According to her, she ate it freeze-dried and made into pills, and felt a surge of energy after taking it.
Eating of the placenta, also known as Placentophagy, is the practice of eating the placenta after delivery. According to Medical News Today, a health blog, it is believed that most non-human mammals with a placenta consume their afterbirth (placenta) to eradicate the scent of their newborns and protect them from predators.
It says that other literatures suggest that animals eat their placenta as a way of regaining nutrients that might have been lost during delivery and to encourage mother-child bonding.
The practice which was originally common among animals seems to be gaining grounds with humans, as women and even some men now eat placenta for some acclaimed benefits.
The blog added that the practice of humans eating it was derived from ancient Chinese medicine, where the organ was used to treat medical conditions such as infertility and liver problems.
“There is little scientific evidence proving that placentophagy offers health benefits.
“But research has shown that afterbirth contains a variety of nutrients such as fiber, protein and potassium, as well as hormones, including estradiol and testosterone,’’ the blog said.
Other health benefits of eating placenta as claimed include improved mood and milk production, increased energy and pain relief.
Some of the methods of ingestion include taking it dried and sealed as capsules, adding it to smoothies, stir fried or adding it to vegetables.
Although the concept is still new to many Nigerians; they will not partake in or encourage others to do so.
A civil servant, Mrs Fatima Makintami, 33, said that apart from seeing and hearing international celebrities talk about it, she had also heard that people eat it for spiritual purposes.
“For me, it’s a taboo. No, no, I won’t eat my placenta for whatever reasons.
“How can someone eat her placenta? I see it as a waste product, how can one take a waste product?’’ The amazed pregnant mother asked.
Makintami’s husband, Usman, said the practice sounded disgusting to him and that he would never support people eating theirs.
“Eating it raw or in any other way; I can’t even imagine it.
“In fact, it’s cannibalism as far as I’m concerned because it is part of the body system.
“This is completely different from drinking one’s urine; though I don’t encourage it either, I’ll have less problem with someone drinking his urine than eating placenta,’’ he said.
Another woman, Ms Seun Ayoola, said that she would rather take supplements and wait for it to work than eat her placenta.
“I even stopped using a particular body lotion when I was told that some companies get the collagen they use for body creams from placentas,’’ she said.
A midwife, who spoke anonymously, said that though it’s done in some places, she doubts if Nigerian women could do it.
According to her, after delivery, the hospital she works with gives women their placentas to dispose of.
“Nigerians view it spiritually; so we are very careful in handling it.
“After delivery, we give it to their husbands or relatives.
“What they choose to do with it is their business, but I don’t believe they eat it,’’ she explained.
Kardashian’s tweet, “My eating my placenta’’ is up on her Twitter handle @KimKardashian on December 14, 2015, and it showed that over 5,000 followers liked the post.
One follower, @Vantastic12 said, “Me too but I wouldn’t tweet photos.’’
Another follower, @EmilyJaneClark, tweeted, “Placenta pills are for wimps. I ate mine straight from the womb.’’
However, followers like @CarolineGrazz, @_CaptainJohn and @TizianeTwittea expressed their disgust at the practice.
But @DesireSeattle said, “Just gross. What does science say on this,’’ she asked.
Dr Oluwafunmilayo Adewumi, a nutritionist at Amuwo Odofin Maternal and Child Centre (AOMCC), said though the practice was novel to her, there are no nutritional benefits from eating the placenta.
“It’s not true. It’s just as if you’re eating flesh with blood.
“The placenta is in a fleshy form; it’s more of protein and could taste like meat.
“That could be why they feel it’s nutritionally okay for them,’’ Adewumi explained.
Also, Dr Joseph Olamijulo, a gynaecologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the benefits claimed by eating the placenta were fictitious.
“There’s nothing particularly beneficial in it. It’s as good as eating other forms of meat.
“You can get your protein from other less debatable sources,’’ he said.
WebMD, another online health blog, further cautioned women to be careful of this trend.
“Those claims have not been fully tested. So, there is no proof that eating your placenta actually does these things.
“Most women who want or expect to feel good or better after eating placenta do feel that way. But that may be just a placebo effect.
“Some women have said they feel sick after eating it. If you eat it fresh or raw, it may spread infection,’’ it warned.
Odafe writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.