The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deals with tons of diseases and ailments each year and determines how to address the public and what methods would be best for preventing the spread of them. One of their latest warnings to the public, however, dealt not with the spread of an infectious disease but with something that is completely preventable for new mothers and their babies.
A trend that has taken off in the last decade is the eating of the placenta after the birth of the baby because some believe that doing so helps with postpartum depression, the production of breast milk, and energy levels. Though there is no definitive evidence that proves that ingestion of the placenta is effective, the idea became popular in the 1960s and 70s as part of a natural birth movement that has grown even more today. All mammals in the wild eat their placentas, excluding camels, so it’s deemed by some as a generally safe and healthy practice.
“Placenta ingestion has recently been promoted to postpartum women for its physical and psychological benefits, although scientific evidence to support this is lacking,” the center warned in its report. They point out, “No standards exist for processing placenta for consumption.”
Since humans don’t generally want to eat their placenta raw, they come up with all sorts of ways to cook it, even inspiring cookbooks on the practice. A recent trend is to use companies that apparently clean, slice, and dehydrate the placenta in order to add it to capsules. One woman in Oregon enlisted the help of a company, who picked up her placenta, made it into the capsules, and delivered it to her three days after giving birth.
Shortly after birth, the child exhibited signs of respiratory distress and was sent to the NICU, where he remained for 11 days and received treatment. He tested positive for strep infection, which can be deadly for newborns, and doctors believe that he initially contracted the infection during birth. He was then brought to an emergency room of a different hospital five days later with the same infection and doctors immediately became concerned.
Doctors found out from the birth hospital that the mother had requested the placenta and that she had been taking two pills three times daily since she received them, so the doctors tested the pills and found it to be positive for the bacteria that causes the infection. They determined that her consumption of the pills caused the infection via breast milk and advised her to immediately stop taking the capsules. Her child was treated for 20 days before being discharged.
This case happened nearly one year ago, but the CDC just recently released the report as a warning to mothers thinking about eating their placenta. They expressly advise against the encapsulation of the placenta, since the process is not regulated and it’s likely that the company didn’t heat it enough to kill all of the bacteria prior to dehydrating it. It’s an easy mistake to make and almost led to the death of a newborn.
A CDC spokeswoman said that the agency hasn’t yet taken a formal position on ingestion of the placenta and that the report reflected the opinion of the author, but this information should be reason enough for new moms to reconsider whether they want to eat their afterbirth.