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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Eat Your Placenta

July 22, 2017

If you’re pregnant and are considering eating your placenta after delivery, you may want to rethink it.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, the practice may put your baby at risk.

The CDC’s report comes after a baby in Oregon contracted a Group B Strep bacterial infection (GBS), which commonly occurs in adults but can be deadly in infants. The baby, who had begun to have respiratory issues, was taken to the hospital, where doctors discovered the infection in the infant’s blood and put the newborn on an 11-day antibiotic regimen that successfully treated the infection. However, the baby later contracted another GBS infection and was taken to another hospital where doctors discovered the actual cause.

The baby’s mother had been consuming placenta pills for several weeks. She had sent her placenta — an organ that develops in the uterus and helps provide nutrients to the fetus as it grows — to a company that turned it into a powder and encapsulated it for her to consume. However, it appears the pills contained GBS bacteria and when the mother breastfed, she unknowingly transferred the bacteria to her baby.

Eating the placenta is a growing trend among new moms because of the supposed health benefits, but this incident and previous research shows it may not be worth the risk.

The Risk of Consuming Your Placenta

For years now, new moms have taken the placenta after delivery and sent it to companies that freeze-dry or dehydrate the placenta to encapsulate it.

Some women believe eating the placenta comes with health benefits such as reducing the risk of postpartum depression, increasing breast milk supply and boosting iron levels to lower the risk of anemia.

However, previous studies don’t support this notion. There’s very little evidence that placenta encapsulation actually produces these benefits.

One 2015 study published in the Archives of Women's Mental Health, which reviewed previous research, found inconclusive evidence that consuming the placenta actually produced health benefits like pain relief or preventing postpartum depression. Another study found eating the placenta has no effect on boosting iron levels in women who consumed these pills compared to those who consumed placebo pills. The study also indicated placenta pills are an inadequate source of iron for women who have low iron and use these pills as the only dietary supplement to raise their levels.

When it comes to placenta pills, my view is that everything has a placebo effect. There’s no research to prove this works, indicating the risks of eating the placenta far outweigh the rewards.

One of the biggest risks with this practice is that placenta encapsulation companies aren’t regulated by the FDA. These companies often ask women if they have any infections or diseases like herpes, Lyme disease or hepatitis, but many might not test for these infections before they encapsulate the placenta. Also, if a company doesn’t appropriately heat up the placenta to kill any bacteria before encapsulation, this makes it fairly easy for bacteria to get into these pills and for a woman to pass this infection on to her baby when she takes them. And because these companies aren’t regulated, there’s another inherent risk — how do you actually know what you’re getting back is your own placenta?

Because of all these uncertainties, it’s better to avoid this practice altogether and consult your doctor. About 5 percent of my patients have asked me about placenta encapsulation, and I often tell them there’s inconclusive evidence on the benefits of this practice. But now that there’s evidence from the CDC, I can’t in good conscience ever recommend it.

Patients need to inform their doctor if they are considering eating their placenta. That way, you truly understand the risks. You also should inform your pediatrician about what you’re doing, so he or she can give you information about the possible risks for your baby.

Most doctors wouldn’t recommend eating the placenta for multiple reasons. First, there’s no evidence this works. Secondly, there are other methods that can help women with low milk supply, iron levels or postpartum depression, including dietary changes, staying well hydrated, taking medication and undergoing behavioral health counseling during pregnancy to identify the risk for depression and possible treatment options. All of this requires closer evaluation by a skilled and qualified medical professional — not a for-profit company that encapsulates an organ.

Women need to be aware of the risks of eating their placenta, especially as it relates to the hygiene and reputation of the company to whom they send their placenta. But overall, even if a company has a stellar reputation, the case in Oregon highlights that the potential risks to infants may not be worth it for new mothers. A much safer and more effective approach is to focus on getting the right amount of nutrients from proven sources — like actual food and being in touch with one’s doctor. This approach will be better for you and your baby in the long run.

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