October 29, 2018

Human Maternal Placentophagy: evolutionary roots, cross-cultural occurrence, and an emerging post-industrial health trend

Daniel Benyshek, University of Nevada Las Vegas

Maternal placentophagy, the mother’s consumption of the ‘afterbirth’ following parturition, is a ubiquitous behavior among terrestrial mammals – including non-human primates. Despite myriad hypothesized fitness-enhancing consequences of the behavior, including predator avoidance, improved lactation, enhanced care-taking behaviors, maternal analgesic effects, and the replenishment of maternal nutrients, among others, human maternal placentophagy is unknown in the cross-cultural ethnographic literature. The conspicuous absence of placentophagy in humans as a traditional cultural practice, raises interesting questions relative to its evolution in other mammals, the reasons for its apparent absence among historic and contemporary human populations, and its implications for maternal and child health in the context of an emerging placentophagy ‘alternative health’ practice among some women in post-industrial societies.