Why I Will Not Be Eating My Placenta

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I’ve recently come to learn of a new fad that is sweeping the ranks of crunchy moms everywhere. Despite it’s inherent, “OMG eeeww” factor, it’s being unquestioningly embraced by many who live for the “natural = good” philosophy.

I’m talking about placentophagia, aka, the act of eating your own placenta.

The placenta is a temporary organ found in female mammals while they are pregnant. The placenta makes possible the exchange of nutrients and waste products between the mother’s and the baby’s circulatory systems. The mother’s and baby’s blood never mixes – that is the sole purpose and function of the placenta.

But some crunchy moms insist that the placenta isn’t just part of your babies life support system. It’s meant to be consumed as a medicinal chef-d’oeuvre.  It’s natures primitive Prozac. It cures baby blues. It increases milk production. It shrinks your uterus. It regulates your iron stores and gives you a hormonal boost. And so on and so on and so on. So everyone needs to be popping placenta pills post-partum, and stat.

IS EATING THE PLACENTA “NATURAL”?

Now, I consider myself to be a rational crunchy mom, or quasi-crunchy. I very much prefer natural approaches to childbirth and child rearing, but I draw the line when it comes to putting a worship of all things “natural” above scientific analysis and basic common sense. The one basic tenet of gung-ho crunchy moms that I disagree with is that all things natural are therefore beneficial to practice, use or ingest. After all, arsenic is natural. Asbestos is natural. Mercury is natural. Tapeworms are natural.

Is eating the placenta natural? Sure it is. If you are a lower order species, like a rat or a dog. But is it natural for higher order primates and human beings? Not really. Not all mammals consume their placenta’s, and historically, the practice almost never occurs in human beings. And the isolated incidences are almost always in the context of religious and ritualistic practices. Not unlike eating the beating heart of your enemies or sacrificing a firstborn to ensure a good harvest.

In addition to placentophagia, many mammals also practice filial cannibalism, where they eat their own young. Benefits of eating your offspring include, “satisfaction of current nutritional and energy requirements of the mother and an increased reproductive capacity”. Just like placenta’s, babies are chock full of natural hormones and offer many health benefits! (I’d make a baby back ribs joke here, but that’s just tasteless. Haha, get it? Taste? Cuz.. eating babies.. Nevermind.) Anyway, filial cannibalism is natural. It’s healthy. Lots of mammals do it. Shouldn’t we also be snacking on our babies from time to time?

Or what about coprophagia? Lots of mammals also partake in coprophagia – the act of eating your own vomit or feces. The semi-digested matter offers many health benefits to mammals, including increasing nutritive elements such as vitamins B, K and B12, and provides healthy bacteria from the partially digested food (along with an occasional case of hepatitis or e coli). So why are we letting our precious bowel movements go to waste? If patterning our behavior off of a select few of our mammalian sisters is a valid response to women’s health, then this should be embraced as well. Fully and completely, for consistencies sake.

See, the mere “natural” consumption of birth waste by a select few wild animals just doesn’t convince me that it’s the thing to do when these same animals – dogs, goats, lemurs, apes – also indulge in shit fetishes, filial cannibalism and circle jerks.

IS EATING THE PLACENTA HISTORICALLY RELEVANT?

And saying, “Well, some people throughout history have eaten their placentas too” holds about as much weight as the “Some mammals eat their placentas” reasoning.

Societies throughout history – particularly ancient societies – have done some really freaking weird things. Human culture is full of superstition, crazy beliefs and appalling behavior. Just look at planking or twerking. So when it comes to historical context, just because some crack pot that thinks the sun is an angry fire demon in the sky believes that placenta munching is a cure-all, doesn’t make it true. That’s why we have a little modern thing called the scientific method.

Without using the scientific method to validate a practice, you end up getting modern day rituals like metzitzah b’peh, an ancient Jewish tradition involving circumcising a baby and then having a grown man suck on the wounded child’s penis. Or the modern day South African witch doctors that encourage men to rape babies and children because of the belief that by doing so you can heal yourself of AIDs.

And I’m so tired of hearing “it was used in ancient Chinese medicine” as a kind of sacred crunchy mom stomping ground to justify natural remedies. The ancient Chinese also relied heavily upon dangerous levels of opium, letting live bees sting you in the face in bee venom acupuncture, rubbing dead scorpions on your body and eating live frogs for detoxification, and many, MANY other – shall we say – questionable things.

So no, eating human afterbirth is NOT historically “natural” – it is historically ritualistic and found only in very small and isolated incidences through world history.

IS EATING THE PLACENTA SCIENTIFICALLY SOUND?

When it comes to scientifically backing up the claims of the placenta eating crowd, the burden of proof is really on the ones suggesting self-cannibalism and consumption of biohazardous medical waste. And the “proof” is just not there. Lots of claims, sure. But the fact is, there are literally NO scientific studies to confirm the “benefits” of placentophagia. Studies among carnivorous rats that act as carrion scavengers in the animal kingdom, yes. But among humans? No.

Most medical professionals flat out refute the claims that eating the placenta provides health benefits to the mother. There is simply no evidence that the placenta contains hormones that are biologically active in increasing milk supply, decreasing postpartum bleeding or improving postpartum mood. But even if the placenta did contain such miracle working hormones, there is no evidence that those hormones would survive biologically intact and maintain the integrity of the proteins and irons during the drying process of encapsulating placental tissues. Then there is the whole pesky issue of whether the wonder cure could survive the acid in the stomach, if it exists in a form that can be absorbed in the intestine, and if it can be absorbed in a form that could be utilized by human cells. There’s just no evidence of any of that.

The only solid-ish claim of those who support eating the placenta is that the placenta contains iron stores. Since the placenta is an organ meat, it can theoretically improve iron levels. But then again, so can an over the counter iron supplement. Or eating own your child.

There are just so many claims of the placentophagiasts that just smacks of miracle elixir and snake oil sales pitches. For instance, I keep hearing that these placenta pills have no expiration date. They’re so amazing, you can save them for decades to take during menopause, where they surely retain all their magical properties! This is quite a claim for a pill that is home made and not FDA approved. Even assuming the healthy nutrients (if any) are retained during the encapsulation process (doubtful), who exactly determines this lack of an expiration date for placenta pills? All herbal products, vitamin and mineral products and dehydrated meat products have an expiration date. The general rule with pills is that herbs retain their nutritive value up to 3 years after encapsulation, vitamins and minerals have a 2 year retention, enzymes and amino acids have a 1 year shelf life, and dehydrated meats have a variable of 3 months to 2 years for an expiration date. What, scientifically speaking, makes dehydrated human placenta jerky capsules immune from an expiration date?

IS EATING YOUR PLACENTA SAFE?

When scientific analysis eludes placenta proponents, I keep hearing the “Well, it can’t hurt, so why not try it!” excuse. But how do we know that it doesn’t hurt? It’s essentially cannibalism. Placenta pill poppers assert that the placenta is part of the woman’s body but actually, this is inaccurate. While there is a maternal component, placental tissue is mainly derived from the fertilized egg and carries the fetus’s genome. So technically, eating the placenta fits the definition of eating the flesh of another individual of your own species. Eating an organ of your childs, to be exact. And it has been firmly established in the biological and medical communities that there are many negative health concerns associated with cannibalism – the act of consuming human tissue.

Kuru disease, Prion disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are all incurable infections directly related to consumption of certain proteins in human flesh, most notably human organs such as the brain and the small intestines. How do we know that the placenta does not have the capacity to transfer these infections? A recent study that sought to identify and analyze the multi-protein complexes in the human placenta found 733 unique proteins and 34 known and novel heterooligomeric multi-protein complexes in the human placenta. Do we know, for a biological certainty, that these are safe to consume? The simple answer is no. We don’t.

And the recent onslaught of word of mouth miracle cures from placenta pills “not causing ill effects” make little difference in the world of cannibalistically derived illnesses. In the case of kuru disease, the incubation period has been known to last for 5 to up to 20 years after eating human organs before the symptoms start to kick in. And even then, the symptoms – ranging from tremors to hysteria to dementia – can take 3 months to 2 years before they finally culminate in insanity and death.

PLACENTA PILLS = PLACEBO PILLS

The proof of placental potency via “word of mouth” testimonies does more to advocate the use of placebo pills than anything.

It HAS been scientifically proven that placebos pills work, whereas it has not been established that placenta pills work, despite the grandiose claims. When it comes to the effectiveness of the placebo effect and placebo pills, it has been proven that capsules work better than tablets. Big pills work better than small pills. The more expensive the pills, the better. The more doses a day, (and the more ills it claims to cure), the better.

Placebo pills are also most effective in combating – you guessed it – depression! Like post-partum depression. (How ironic…)

Indeed there is much more reason to believe on scientific grounds that placenta pills “work” among eager new moms because of the placebo effect than because of any nutritive value found in the placenta. Clinical studies have shown that placebos have produced endogenous opiates – pain-relieving chemicals produced in the brain – which copy the effect of pain-relievers in unsuspecting patients. Placebos have even dramatically altered the levels of hormones in patients.

It has also been firmly proven that the placebo effect is directly related to the perceptions and expectations of the patient – if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal. It also helps if the one peddling the pills is enthusiastic and provides wild and varying claims to it’s cure-alls. In one study, the response to a placebo increased from 44% to 62% when the doctor treated the patient with “warmth, attention, and confidence.”

In short, placebos work best in patients who have pre-conceived notions of the effectiveness of a remedy and strongly believe they will receive certain health benefits from it. Basically, patients like ultra-crunchy moms who live by the ritualistic philosophy that anything natural is therefore good, are prime candidates for a placebo – or placenta – pill. In my personal opinion, they are both one and the same.

Which is why I won’t be eating my own placenta.

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Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls.

Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

33 thoughts on “Why I Will Not Be Eating My Placenta

  • 14 July, 2013 at 5:35 pm
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    I have been tempted to cross into super-crunchy. For some reason, I just haven’t even brought up placenta encapsulation to my doula. Heck, I’m not even sure that the hospital would let me keep it anyway. Perhaps there is a reson why I do not bring it up. I guess I will stick with my other crunchy tendencies and leave it at that. 🙂

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    • 14 July, 2013 at 5:45 pm
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      LOL, yeah, I am quasi-crunchy, in that I have a pesky tendency to reject things that are potentially pointless. I think too much in the super crunchy realm is based on faith and philosophy that borders too closely on nature / natural worship. Like placenta encapsulation. lol!

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  • 15 July, 2013 at 1:03 pm
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    I’m for all-natural but this is much too far for me. Plus, I have a texture issue with some foods and I’m almost positive this would be one of those foods.

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    • 6 December, 2013 at 2:39 pm
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      LOL, yeah I think its inherently “eww” factor for me, since I don’t eat organ meats… let alone my own (or my childs)…

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  • 17 July, 2013 at 7:25 pm
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    Really interesting, I was considering placenta pills with my next birth. Great info.

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  • 19 July, 2013 at 10:47 pm
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    It always really annoys me when a women says she will be eating “her” placenta. No, you will be eating your baby’s placenta, and if you’re okay with that, whatever, but I will not be doing the same, despite my quasi-crunchy ways! So, in sum, great piece!

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  • 19 July, 2013 at 11:37 pm
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    Definitely some excellent points. It is really great to hear an opposing position on the placenta eating subject.

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    • 6 December, 2013 at 2:41 pm
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      Yeah, there’s not much out there… just vague, “Eww, gross, no.” posts… which I why I felt moved to research and be the Google detective know-it-all, lol

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  • 19 July, 2013 at 11:54 pm
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    Comparing placenta encapsulation to eating your own child, vomit or feces is offensive to say the least. My iron level shot through the roof following six weeks of taking my placenta pills daily. That is not the placebo effect. It is a measurable result. Everyone has choices in life. Before you learn about it of course it seems gross but grow up and don’t insult the women who choose to try it.

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    • 20 July, 2013 at 12:34 am
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      If you actually read my post, you would see that I marked “source of iron” as the ONLY medically quantifiable benefit of placenta consumption. The valid analogy that the same can be said of filial cannibalism – or an iron supplement – is not an insult, it is just that… A valid analogy. There is no need to get nasty if you are feeling uncomfortable or sheepish over these facts.

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  • 6 May, 2014 at 5:38 pm
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    glad that i looked into this today and found your article. the midwife was having me consider this…gave me a pamphlet…a convincing one…but i just think it is a little dangerous as we do not know the long term side effects of eating human genomes. i will not be pursuing this. i will spend time chilling after my pregnancy and sleeping well, eating well, and taking the best plant based supplementation.

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    • 24 October, 2014 at 2:26 am
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      Glad I could help!

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  • 3 July, 2014 at 3:26 pm
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    I’m a sciencey crunch type, and I get where you’re coming from, but I disagree. One of the more interesting papers for me comes from the expert in the field of placentophagy in mammals, Mark Kristal. His 2012 paper essentially says, placentophagy works, but making human women eat it = ickypoo, so we should isolate the active components in the lab and synthesize it. A lot of us would rather ingest the custom natural form than a standardized synthetic. http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~kristal/placentophagia%20review.pdf

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    • 3 July, 2014 at 4:06 pm
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      That’s a very interesting thought, I’m looking forward to reading the link you provided. I’m always open to learning more on the subject! ^_^ Thanks for sharing!

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  • 3 July, 2014 at 3:42 pm
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    I donated ours to the local search and rescue through the police dept. One placenta gives cadaver dogs six months of material to train with so they can find people during emergencies and natural disasters. We simply told the hospital we wanted it, put it in a bucket and froze it. Just don’t let them treat it with any chemicals.

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    • 3 July, 2014 at 4:07 pm
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      Wow, that’s crazy, I had no idea! I always wondered what they used to train dogs for search and rescue… never would have thought human placenta!!

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      • 19 April, 2015 at 2:14 pm
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        I cared for a couple who worked search and rescue, had a lovely birth and then and donated their babe’s placenta for the same use. Valuable recycling.
        ec cnm

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    • 1 May, 2015 at 10:21 pm
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      We did too! My husband’s coworker has a new cadaver dog that is used for our local search and rescue. I’m excited to tell my son when he grows up that he helped give loved ones who lost people some measure of comfort.

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  • 3 July, 2014 at 5:30 pm
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    I had severe post partum depression after my second child. It impeded every waking moment of my life for a year. I decided with my third child I would try encapsulation in order to help stave off any chance of ppd coming back. When explaining to my labor nurse why I chose to encapsulate and needed a release for my placenta–if you had cancer before, and someone told you elephant dung could cure cancer, would you eat it? My answer is HE$& YES. I would gladly eat whatever the heck I could get my hand on to prevent the debilitating depression I had for a year. And guess what…I didn’t get it with my third child. Coincidence? Who knows. But I’m glad I did it nevertheless.

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    • 3 July, 2014 at 5:39 pm
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      Hey, if mind over matter is your strategy, and popping placenta pills is the magic wand you needed to talk your mind into a state of calm, more power to you. Placebo pills are known to work far more effectively than placenta pills, and when they are one in the same thing, I would imagine there are some positive placenta pill stories out there. But in my research, they appear to be helpful in some instances more because of matter of the mind, and less because of any scientific relevance.

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  • 9 October, 2014 at 8:19 pm
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    I’m not sure why you say placenta encapsulation/ingestion is “being embraced unquestioningly”- how do you know what people’s motives are and what questions they asked? Worship of all things natural?? That’s a huge leap! Only a small percentage of the women whose placentas I do are into “all things” natural. Most had medicated births in a hospital or c/s and see regular OB’s, pediatricians, and take medicine. Yes, they also may like to combine that with some more natural approaches. Hardly “worship” because they make one non-pharmaceutical decision. People are complex, not black and white/ fully natural in all things or rejecting all things natural / or sciency vs. rejecting all science. It’s so simplistic to put it that way. If you don’t feel like ingesting your placenta is right for you, you are welcome not to do it. I never try to convince people to use my services. If it’s not something that resonates with you, then by all means, don’t do it! I did all different things with my 3 placentas- by no means do I think everyone should do it. I never make any claims or promises about what the capsules WILL do or treat. I’m sure there are some out there who do try to convince moms to do it or make promises about all the things it can “cure”, but in the 5 years I’ve been doing this, the majority of practitioners that I know are up front and realistic about what the pills can and can’t do.

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    • 10 October, 2014 at 3:07 pm
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      How do you advertise your services then if you make no claims to wait it can or cannot do? How do you respond to questions as to it’s expiration date? What is the selling point to your clients beyond, “Hey! Want to pay me to put your childs placenta into an edible form?” And my statement that the choice is being made unquestioningly is because once you question the validity of the “benefits” of placenta pills, it become evident to the scientifically minded that they are nothing more than placebo pills, as my article highlights.

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      • 23 January, 2016 at 9:11 pm
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        This article is silly.

        First of all, coprophagia (however it’s spelled), have you even heard that people are getting fecal transplants to cure certain diseases? They are getting other peoples’ poop inserted in their poop canal and it’s working!

        I wonder if the problem our society has is that we’re so “clean” that it would certainly be seen as a disorder if someone felt compelled to eat their own poop, even if eating their own poop provided probiotic benefits…Now, I realize with fecal transplants, people aren’t eating poop, but it’s kind of the same idea to an extent – at least in terms of probiotics, etc. People generally consume probiotics in order to aid their intestinal gut bacteria, they don’t insert them into their anal canal. So why not eat the poop?

        But the other thing that is silly about this article is that it completely misses a life saving benefit that consuming the placenta has, and that has to do with stopping postpartum hemorrhage, the number one killer of women in childbirth.

        So consuming a placenta is VERY valid, and it is done raw in that case, and usually only a piece is needed.

        I would also recommend that if a woman WANTS to eat her placenta (some women will start to eat it frozen/raw and then crave it), then there is probably a biological reason (a necessary biological reason). When my goats give birth, I would NEVER stop them from eating their own placenta. Some don’t, some do. I certainly would also NEVER expect them to start eating their baby! That would be quite a deviation.

        But to make a comparison between consuming a placenta and a consuming a baby is VERY ridiculous. It seems to jump to the conclusion that women who consume their placenta are no more rational than women who are cannibals.

        That is a wild accusation! Of course it’s necessary to draw the line at “feeling” like eating something – like a baby or like cigarette butts or paint chips, etc. But turning a very normal and natural thing that is prevalent among probably all mammals like consuming the placenta into something unnatural is like saying that just because it’s “natural” to breastfeed doesn’t mean that it’s necessary or desirable…if you are a lower order animal, it is perfectly acceptable to breastfeed, but HUMANS have evolved socially and physically to feed their babies formula…

        Does it start to feel uncomfortable with people throwing around random analogies? Your analogy may work for you, but it also introduces harmful ideas to society and between moms about acceptable behavior.

        Yes, of course, eating babies is unacceptable, but a placenta is NOT a baby. Yes, of course, eating poop or throw up seems really unkosher in today’s society, but poop is NOT a baby.

        We really need to be comparing apples to apples. Comparing consuming a placenta, which is ethical, to something like eating a baby, which is unethical, is not an appropriate analogy to make.

        And as for the poop, well, I can say that I think a placenta is more along the lines of “meat” and people eat meat all the time, so I would put it in a category above consuming poop, but at least consuming poop is not seen as unethical (although, again, the idea of the uses for poop these days suggest that consuming poop may not be that wild of an idea).

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  • 4 November, 2014 at 12:31 am
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    This is the most anti-Semitic article I have ever read. Nobody has a grown man suck on the wounded penis of a circumcised baby at a Bris. That is ridiculous.

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    • 4 November, 2014 at 2:44 pm
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      Research it. This actually does happen. Did you click on the link in the article? Did you do a Google search? It’s easily verifiable for those who, ya know, care about the truth. 😉

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    • 23 January, 2016 at 9:37 pm
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      *About the anti-Semitism…another good example of silly statements…people just wildly brandishing their unreasoned assumptions…

      If this WAS the most anti-Semitic article, well it would be very benign – we wouldn’t be living in a very challenging world.

      But, again, another good example of how one person’s ideas can wrong the character of a person or a group of people. Just like making analogies between consuming a placenta to being a low-level animal or, worse, to being a murderer (eating a baby).

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  • 23 March, 2015 at 11:23 am
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    All I wanted to say is… great job on this. Its very thorough in approach. We really should pause to consider the lack of research surrounding this trend. Thanks for sharing!

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  • 9 May, 2015 at 6:21 pm
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    I also did research on eating the placenta and came to the same conclusion, there is no reason to do it. I am going to plant it under a tree in my backyard though. I don’t know if that makes me quasi-crunchy or super-crunchy 😉

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  • 29 June, 2016 at 2:33 pm
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    Thank you for this.

    Thank you for your measured response to the commenter who called your mention of fellating a newborn anti Semitic- though the practice is sectarian and not widespread.

    Point is, facts can be uncomfortable but should not be dismissed out of hand or cited as prejudicial just because one is uncomfortable. Anecdotal or empirical evidence aside, there is no context within which cannibilism is acceptable. As a granola styled, bush bred city dweller, I don’t get how placenta eating is not cannibilism- if you remove the context and good intentions. Good day to you.

    Reply

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