wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockNew moms, listen up! If you’re thinking of following in the footsteps of your favorite celeb mommy by eating your own placenta post-birth, you might want to reconsider.
Placentophagy—the medical term for consuming the placenta—has been around since at least the 1970s, but it’s gotten a rampant rebirth in recent years, thanks, in part, to celebrities (like reality TV queens Kourtney and Kim Kardashian or actress Katherine Heigl) turning it into a postpartum trend. But a cautionary item in a recent edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is raising the alarm.
According to the report, an infant in Oregon may have gotten sick from contaminated placenta pills his mother took. After the baby contracted B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) twice in a short period of time (the second was just five days after he completed a rigorous 11-day course of antibiotics for the first infection), a sample of her placenta capsules was studied. Scientists discovered they contained the same strain of bacteria that caused her infant’s infection.
Kirill Galkin/ShutterstockPlacenta encapsulation is how women most commonly ingest the organ after giving birth. The placenta is sent away to a company that heats it, dehydrates it, and then grinds it up to be placed into pills. It’s touted as being a postpartum miracle by potentially increasing the release of the hormone oxytocin (this helps the uterus return to its normal size and can promote mom-and-baby bonding), restoring iron levels in the blood (many new moms struggle with low iron after delivery), staving off postpartum depression, boosting energy, and even increasing milk production.
But worryingly, there’s little (if any) scientific proof to back those claims up, nor has anyone studied the risks.
In fact, researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine analyzed 10 preexisting studies on placentophagy and determined there was no data to support the claims that eating the placenta raw, cooked, or encapsulated offers significant postpartum protection. “My concern for [my patients who are thinking about placentophagy] would be that this is unknown territory,” said study author Crystal Clark, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine on a medical podcast.
While encapsulating your placenta isn’t guaranteed to harm your infant—or provide magical health benefits, either—it’s important to weigh all potential risks, seek out multiple medical opinions, and thoroughly research the encapsulation company before going through with it. Researchers involved with the case in Oregon state that if the placenta isn’t heated to the proper temperature for the right amount of time (130 degrees Fahrenheit for 121 minutes), you run the risk of contamination by Salmonella or other bacteria (like GBS). No formal standards exist for processing placenta for consumption, nor is it officially regulated.