The Centers for Disease Control recently reported a baby in Oregon almost died after two back-to-back infections, subsequently found to be caused by the breast-feeding mother ingesting her own placenta.
“Three days after the infant’s birth, the mother had received the dehydrated, encapsulated placenta and began ingesting two capsules three times daily,” the CDC stated. “The physician instructed the mother to stop consuming the capsules.”
Once the woman stopped, her child — who was given a new round of antibiotics — recovered. (WaPo)
This has become a much more common practice in recent years, touted by celebrities like January Jones and Kim Kardashian. Advocates claim it does everything from preventing postpartum depression to increasing milk production, improving nutrition levels, energy, and even elevating mood. However, as with most fads, there is little evidence to back up these claims. The risks, however, to a newborn with an undeveloped immune system, can be high.
GBS (Group B streptococcus) is commonly found in and on adults, but it usually doesn’t cause infections. In newborns with undeveloped immune responses, however, it can wreak havoc. And the strain of GBS found in this case was particularly nasty; it had virulence factors that allowed it to easily slip through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream — and potentially cross the blood-brain barrier.
The practice is called placentophagy. The placenta is sent to a lab to be dehydrated and encapsulated for the mother to consume within days after childbirth.
One of the risks facing mothers, according to the CDC, is that no standards exist for processing placenta for consumption beyond heating the tissue at 130°F (54°C) for 121 minutes to reduce Salmonella bacterial counts. “The placenta encapsulation process does not per se eradicate infectious pathogens; thus, placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided,” the CDC states. “Clinicians should inquire about a history of placenta ingestion in cases of late-onset GBS infection and educate mothers interested in placenta encapsulation about the potential risks.”
A 2015 study showed there is no evidence to support any benefits from placentophagy, and there is no research on the potential risks. And warning, this next part is pretty gross:
“Of all the studies available, only one showed potential for benefit,” Clark said. “and it showed the potential for pain reduction immediately after labor. But that particular study, although quite rigorous and convincing, suggested that the placenta had to be eaten right after birth, completely, in its entirety, and that it couldn’t be stored or heated,” she said. “That’s not what human women are doing.” (WaPo)
Again, after careful review of multiple studies, doctors have found no compelling evidence this practice has any benefits, but there are dangers, as this case shows. Once again, doctors are trained experts, not celebrities on Twitter. So it is definitely better to get advice from the doctors. They are trained to research, review, and answer these questions.