Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Daniel C. Benyshek

Second Committee Member

Peter B. Gray

Third Committee Member

Pierre Lienard

Fourth Committee Member

Shawn Gerstenberger

Number of Pages



Postpartum ingestion of the afterbirth by the mother, or maternal placentophagy, is a common behavior among eutherian mammals, including non-human primates, with humans as a rare exception. Despite the conspicuous absence of placentophagy in the cross-cultural ethnographic record, the practice appears to be gaining popularity among a small but growing number of advocates in various industrialized contexts who claim that the practice provides benefits to the postpartum mother, namely the relief and prevention of postpartum blues and depressive symptoms, improved breast milk production, and enhanced bonding with their infant. Because the placenta serves as an endocrine organ throughout pregnancy and facilitates the exchange of nutrients between mother and fetus, placentophagy supporters suggest that the hormones and nutrients remaining in the placenta after parturition can be used to replenish these substances during the postpartum period, often through the ingestion of dehydrated and encapsulated placenta supplements.

This dissertation addresses the claims of placentophagy advocates through a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial in which postpartum women (N=27) were given a supplement containing either their dehydrated and homogenized placenta (n=12), or a similarly prepared placebo (n=15). Questionnaire responses and biological samples were collected during pregnancy and at three postpartum meetings to address whether supplementation with placenta capsules improves postpartum affect, energy and recovery in comparison to a placebo supplement; whether there are differences within and between these two groups in concentration of prolactin, estradiol, and progesterone across meetings and whether these hormones are related to measures of postpartum affect, energy and recovery; and to identify the concentration of hormones, micronutrients, and environmental metals in dehydrated placenta capsules. The results suggest that participants receiving the placenta supplement experienced a postpartum decrease in depressive symptoms and fatigue that was not experienced by those taking the placebo supplement, but that hormonal differences were not related to these changes. Analysis of the placenta supplements also revealed modest concentrations of some micronutrients and hormones, as well as negligible concentrations of potentially harmful environmental metals.


Encapsulated Placenta; Hormones; Micronutrients; Placentophagia; Postpartum Period; Trace Elements


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Biological and Physical Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit