Eating placenta good for new moms?

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PHOENIX -- Eating placenta. It sounds shocking, but some say it can help new moms avoid postpartum depression.

It's not as "out there" as you might think. Actress January Jones ("Mad Men") did it.

“It’s something I was very hesitant about, but we’re the only mammals who don’t ingest our own placentas," Jones told People Magazine in March. “It’s not witch-crafty or anything! I suggest it to all moms!”

So does Jodi Selander. After grappling with some issues with depression after the birth of her first child, she gave placentophagy (placenta ingestion) a try when she had her second baby. After doing some research, she learned that she could dry her placenta, ground it up and put it in capsules.

"I felt a lot better emotionally," she said. "I was well balanced. I had a lot of energy. … I could not believe how good it made me feel."

Consuming placenta is not a new idea. There are studies of its efficacy going back several decades.

"It's a time-honored way of renewing a woman's stores of iron and preventing anemia after childbirth," said Elisabeth Halligan, RN, CPN. "We didn't always have fancy hospitals and medications."

Here in the U.S., the placenta is generally disposed of immediately after birth. That's not the case in other cultures, many of which have ceremonial uses for the placenta.

Selander founded PlacentaBenefits.info, which is headquartered in Las Vegas, to educate mothers about placentophagy for postpartum recovery.

She recommends a new mother consume placenta in some form -- capsules are the easiest -- in the first weeks after giving birth, when "her body is in a huge state of transition."

"The placenta contains all of those hormones and nutrients and things that the baby needed and that drove the pregnancy," Selander explained. "Once the placenta is born, it still contains all of those nutrients while it's missing from the mother. The theory is that it just makes sense to put that back into her. It helps maintain the balance, helps get her through those first few weeks … The placenta is really good for easing that transition."

Selander said consuming placenta is not a replacement for treatment of clinical postpartum depression.

"It is an option to help mom fend off a lot of the risk factors," she said.

While Jones, Selander and other have had positive experiences with eating their placentas, not everybody is on board.

Amanda Marcotte of XXfactor says it's "a step too far," and  Nancy Redd explained in a New York Times piece why she regretted eating her placenta.

"Somehow, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Redd wrote. "But in my case, it was a terrible idea. ... [A]fter just eight placenta pills, I was in tabloid-worthy meltdown mode, a frightening phase filled with tears and rage."

While most of the recent studies on placentophagy seem agree that further exploration into the potential benefits is needed, the decision -- a very personal one -- is ultimately up to the mother.