Are You Thinking of Eating Your Placenta? Read This First!
If you're considering eating your placenta, you probably have some good reasons for doing so.
You may have read that it can be healthy to eat your placenta–some women swear that the vitamins and minerals that they are missing can help them stay healthy in the postpartum stage, others believe it helps keep their iron levels up in the midst of after-birth bleeding, and others attest that consuming their placentas in the form of pills helps to stabilize their hormone levels and ward off postpartum depression.
And while there is no firm scientific evidence that eating your placenta in any form (and yes, some women still really do eat it raw or cook it up themselves!) is beneficial, more women have at least considered trying their own placentas. Most commonly, a woman will save her placenta from the hospital and use a third-party company to encapsulate her placenta into pills that she can swallow. And while that's a more convenient option than say, whipping up your own placenta smoothie, there also may be a risk to eating your placenta that you hadn't considered.
A frightening story has come out of Oregon, where a newborn baby became dangerously ill as a result of his mother consuming her placenta. The incident actually happened last year, but reports of it are just now coming to the public because it took doctors some time to figure out what was happening. Apparently, the baby first contracted a strep infection shortly after birth, which the doctors believed was a result of the mother passing bacteria onto the baby during delivery.
During pregnancy, every mother is tested for strep bacteria around 35 weeks. Your care provider does a simple swap of your vaginal area (with a large Q-tip) and sends it out for testing. If it comes back positive, you are considered Group B Strep-positive or GBS+ and you are required to have antibiotics during labor. This is because GBS is a dangerous form of strep bacteria that can be passed onto the baby during labor. Giving the mom antibiotics during labor ensures that the baby is getting some form of antibiotics too, to help ward off that bacteria.
In this case, the doctors treated the baby like he had contracted the bacteria from his mother, which he probably had, and continued to monitor him. Once he had finished his round of antibiotics, he was sent home. Only five days later, however, he came back to the hospital with symptoms of “irritability” and the doctors again found GBS in his bloodstream. They were baffled and tested the mother's milk to see if perhaps the breast milk contained the GBS, but it did not.
The doctors were puzzled and it wasn't until the delivering doctor remembered that the mother had requested to take her placenta home that the medical team asked her if she was consuming her placenta. As it would turn out, she was. She had had her placenta encapsulated and had been taking two placenta pills three times a day.
Further testing revealed that her placenta was infected with GBS and the doctors determined that the baby had picked up a secondary infection as a result of the mom eating her placenta. And while this incident may be an isolated case (and fortunately, the baby was treated in time), it's still a good reminder that the placenta business is not a regulated one — there are no standards for how to properly make a placenta pill or what heat you need to kill bacteria off to make it safe.
Bottom line? As of right now, there is not enough evidence to support that placenta pills are beneficial, so you will definitely want to consider all the benefits vs. risks of consuming your placenta. And if you plan on having your placenta encapsulated, be sure to find out if you are GBS positive and if you are, do some research on the company that will be preparing your placenta pills to make sure they follow heat guidelines that are high enough to kill off any bacteria. (It's difficult to reach high-enough temperatures.)
Do you plan on eating your placenta?