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Placentophagia in Humans and Nonhuman Mammals: Causes and Consequences

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Afterbirth ingestion by nonhuman mammalian mothers has a number of benefits: (1) increasing the interaction between the mother and infant; (2) potentiating pregnancy-mediated analgesia in the delivering mother; (3) potentiating maternal brain opioid circuits that facilitate the onset of caretaking behavior; and (4) suppressing postpartum pseudopregnancy. Childbirth is fraught with additional problems for which there are no practical nonhuman animal models: postpartum depression, failure to bond, hostility toward infants. Ingested afterbirth may contain components that ameliorate these problems, but the issue has not been tested empirically. The results of such studies, if positive, will be medically relevant. If negative, speculations and recommendations will persist, as it is not possible to prove the negative. A more challenging anthropological question is “why don't humans engage in placentophagia as a biological imperative?” Is it possible that there is more adaptive advantage in not doing so?
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Keywords: POEF; afterbirth; amniotic fluid; placenta; placentophagia; placentophagy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Behavioral Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology,University at Buffalo, Buffalo,New York, USA 2: Department of Psychology,Buffalo State College, Buffalo,New York, USA 3: Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, Buffalo,New York, USA

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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