The en vogue practice of placenta encapsulation has recently come under fire after a newborn allegedly fell ill as a result of placenta pills ingested by the infant’s mother.
According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an Oregon newborn began experiencing respiratory distress shortly after birth in September 2016. The hospital transferred the baby to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for further testing and care.
Despite the mother testing negative for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) at 37 weeks’ gestation, hospital tests revealed that the infant had contracted the bacterial illness. The baby was discharged home after the completion of an 11-day course of antibiotics.
When the infant became irritable five days later, the baby was admitted to a second hospital. Blood cultures indicated that the baby had GBS. Upon hearing that the mother hired a company to dehydrate and encapsulate her placenta, a physician instructed her to stop ingesting the placenta.
A sample of the capsule tested positive for Group-B Strep. The final diagnosis of the baby was GBS as a result of the mother’s consumption of the infected placenta pills.
“We were concerned because the mother’s breast milk had been tested, and it was negative for Group B Strep. So we were just trying to understand why this child would have two infections in a row,” said Dr. Genevieve Buser, an Infectious Disease Specialist. “And when we discovered that the placenta had been encapsulated, we asked to test the dried placenta inside the capsules and that came back positive for Group B Strep.”
The consumption of one’s placenta, or placentophagy, has gained popularity in recent years. From smoothies to tinctures, many mothers are hoping to achieve the physiological and psychological benefits that are said to exist by consuming the placenta.
Proponents of placenta consumption swear by its ability to reduce postpartum depression, increase energy, and improve milk production.While the practice of placentophagy may appear bizarre to some, humans are in the minority. With the exception of marine mammals and a few domesticated animals, all other mammals eat their afterbirth. Additionally, human placenta has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since the 1500s.
The problem as seen by modern medicine is that there is very little research surrounding the safety or the efficacy of placentophagy. The majority of the evidence on both sides of the debate is anecdotal. The few existing studies on the practice offer very little insight.
Additionally, some argue that the practice of placenta encapsulation is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The Association of Placenta Preparation Arts (APPA) is the predominant group for placenta preparers and has established strict guidelines and standards of practice for the field.
While the infant case study is certainly eye-opening, it’s important to acknowledge that one case should not be indicative of the overall safety of placentophagy. Questions remain for critics of the CDC’s report.
For example, as the mother’s milk tested negative for GBS, it is difficult to understand how the mother could have transferred the bacteria to her infant through her breast milk. It is also reasonable to question whether or not the infection was sufficiently eradicated during the first hospitalization.
In response to the CDC report, the AAPA responded with a blog post discussing the case in detail. While this case is important and worthy of discussion, the debate remains as to whether or not placenta encapsulation is beneficial and safe.