Are Eating Placenta Pills Harmful to Your Baby?

Placenta pills may have caused at least one newborn to get sick.

mom and newborn
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The practice of a mother eating her placenta is nothing new; many mammals eat their own placenta after giving birth, usually as a way to ward off any potential predators who may endanger her offspring.

The practice of human mothers eating their own placentas (known as placentophagy), however, is a relatively newer practice that is thought to have originated perhaps in the 1970s, as part of the movement to incorporate more natural birthing methods.

Some women choose to consume their placentas on their own in different ways after birth, such as blending their placenta up in a smoothie or cooking and eating it.

But many mothers who consume their placentas after birth now choose to use placental encapsulation, which turns their placenta into "placenta pills" that the mother can swallow. After birth, the mother requests to keep her placenta and then uses a company that dries and grinds the placenta, then places into pills that are usually stored at room temperature.

Mothers who choose to eat their placenta claim the practice helps balance their nutrient levels after birth or wards off postpartum depression. Without any real evidence for the claims, however, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report in 2017 that showed that placenta pills may actually pose a very real threat to newborn babies.

The Dangers of Placenta Eating

In this particular case, doctors were puzzled by an infant who got very sick shortly after birth.

The infant had a type of bacteria called group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS), which can be deadly to infants. All mothers are screened for the GBS bacteria during their pregnancy, because a mother can pass GBS onto her baby during birth. GBS isn't usually harmful to adults, so without a screening, a mother might not know that she has it.

In this case, however, the mother had tested negative for GBS and after being treated with antibiotics in the hospital, the baby was sent home. Five days later, the infant was back in the hospital with another GBS infection and the doctors couldn't figure out where it was coming from.

As it turns out, the mother had started eating her placenta in the form of encapsulated pills that she had paid a company to make from her placenta 3 days after the baby was born. It was reported that these contaminated pills may not have been properly sterilized and likely led to the infection being passed from mother to baby.

Are There Any Benefits of Eating Your Placenta?

This is one of the first cases where it has been shown that eating a placenta can actually be harmful to a newborn baby, but aside from the dangers, there have also been no studies to prove that there are any benefits to eating your placenta either. For example, one study looked at the common claim that placenta pills can boost a mom's iron supply after birth, and found that the pills had no effect on iron in the postpartum period.

Another Risk of Placenta Pills

As the CDC noted in their report, another risk of the use of placenta pills is that the companies that make them do not have to adhere to any sort of regulations or standards, because they don't exist.

These companies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Despite the fact that the company the mother used did utilize high heat temperatures to dry the placenta before grinding it into a powder for the pill, the heat was not sufficient enough to kill of the GBS bacteria.

A Word From Verywell

If you are considering eating your placenta after birth or are currently eating your placenta after birth in the form of placenta pills, you should be aware that currently, there are no studies that show placenta pills have any benefit to either mother or baby. So be sure to talk to your doctor about any risks they may pose to your baby, especially if you are breastfeeding and/or have tested positive for GBS at any point during your pregnancy.

Sources

Centers for Disease and Control. (2017, June 30). Notes from the field: Late-Onset Infant Group B Streptococcus Infection Associated with Maternal Consumption of Capsules Containing Dehydrated Placenta — Oregon, 2016. Weekly, 66(25);677–678. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6625a4.htm 

Gryder, L. K., Young, S. M., Zava, D., Norris, W., Cross, C. L. and Benyshek, D. C. (2017), Effects of Human Maternal Placentophagy on Maternal Postpartum Iron Status: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health, 62: 68–79. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12549. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jmwh.12549/full

Notes from the Field: Late-Onset Infant Group B Streptococcus Infection Associated with Maternal Consumption of Capsules Containing Dehydrated Placenta — Oregon, 2016 (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6625a4.htm)

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