Eating one’s own placenta after giving birth has become a popular fad in recent years. While some women learn about the practice from their doulas or midwives, others undoubtedly have heard about the benefits from celebrities like Kim Kardashian West. But the benefits of consuming the organ, which nourishes a fetus while in utero and is then expelled through the birth canal after childbirth, have not been well-studied. And now, it seems, doing so might even be dangerous.
A Washington Post article brought to light a frightening incident that occurred when a baby contracted a severe infection as a result of her mother consuming her own placenta:
The baby was born healthy and without complication in September, but then its health began to deteriorate rapidly.
Doctors — scrambling to uncover the cause of the infant’s respiratory distress — transferred the baby to the neonatal intensive care unit and began a series of tests, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those tests revealed a deadly blood infection known as late-onset group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacteremia, which doctors treated with an 11-day course of antibiotics.
But after returning home, the baby contracted a second GBS infection and was rushed to another hospital. It was there that doctors discovered the cause of the reoccurring infection was the mother’s own placenta.
The woman — who was not identified in the CDC report — had been ingesting her placenta for weeks after registering with a company that processes and encapsulates the organ, which connects the developing fetus to the mother’s uterine wall. While she was ingesting placenta, the woman was also breast-feeding, which transferred the infection from mother to child.
The mother had received her encapsulated placenta three days after giving birth. And while the process for preparing a placenta to be consumed involves heating it to 130 degrees F for 121 minutes in order to kill any salmonella bacteria that might be present, there are no regulations or precautions in place that would kill other bacteria, like what was found to sicken the baby in the CDC report. Most importantly, evidence supporting the practice is severely lacking:
A 2015 study in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health examined all previous studies on eating the afterbirth and found that there is no real evidence to support claims of potential benefits. It also found that there was no research on the potential risks of consuming a human placenta.
“Of all the studies available, only one showed potential for benefit, and it showed the potential for pain reduction immediately after labor,” Clark said. “But that particular study, although quite rigorous and convincing, suggested that the placenta had to be eaten right after birth, completely, in its entirety, and that it couldn’t be stored or heated. That’s not what human women are doing.”