A recent report of a baby in respiratory distress suggests moms who eat placenta pills might actually be doing more harm than good, as shown in notes published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.
In September of last year, the Oregon Health Authority documented a case of a severe bacterial infection (group B Streptococcus agalactiae) in an infant. The infant developed breathing problems and spent time in neonatal intensive care. Five days after being discharged, the baby was admitted to an emergency department because of "irritability." After spending days at the hospital, the treating physician discovered the child's mother was taking placenta pills, and instructed her to stop. The report says contaminated placenta capsules, which might not have been properly sterilized, likely caused the infection.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate companies that conduct placenta processing. The Association of Placenta Preparation Arts is one group trying to advocate for safe placenta preparation techniques. The group responded to the CDC report saying placenta capsules probably won't make babies sick, but in this case, where an infection was immediately present, the mother shouldn't have taken placenta pills.
"Maternal or fetal infection at or immediately following the time of delivery is an absolute contraindication to encapsulation," the APPA said in a release. "It is unsafe to encapsulate in these cases."
Advocates of eating the placenta (like many animals do) say it can prevent postpartum mood disorders, boost the immune system and milk supply. But, there isn't enough research to show if that's true. Plus, Margaret Long, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mayo Clinic, points out, it’s not natural to process the placenta: “Animals do not encapsulate it and eat it.”The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't condone the practice, telling USA TODAY "there is no evidence or data to support eating the placenta."
Crystal Tennille Clark, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, has reviewed existing data on the potential benefits of eating the placenta for a report published in Archives of Women’s Mental Health. Clark, along with her team, wasn’t able to connect any health benefits to the practice and actually cited some dangers.
"Bacteria and elements such as mercury and lead have been identified in the post-term placenta," Clark told CBS News. "So if the theory is that we retain nutrients and hormones such as estrogen and iron that could be beneficial, then the question becomes what harmful substances can also be retained that could harm the mother or the baby if she is breastfeeding."
Some moms have also spoke out about negative postpartum experiences related to eating their placenta. Nancy Redd wrote about how she entered a “frightening phase filled with tears and rage” after taking eight placenta pills in a post on The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. While she can’t specifically attribute her “jittery and weird” feelings to the pills, she said going off of them made her feel better "immediately."
Sayonara Mato, one of the doctors who worked on the Oregon case, told KGW-TV “until the day truly processing the placenta can ensure it is infection free, in my mind no mother should take that risk for the baby.”
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