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The Danger That Doctors Want You to Know About Placenta Pills

Photograph by Twenty20

More and more moms are choosing to ingest their placenta after giving birth because many believe it provides a myriad of benefits, such as helping with postpartum depression, easing insomnia, encouraging breast milk production and boosting energy levels. During pregnancy, the placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. And though most mammals consume their placenta after giving birth, camels and humans have been the exception.

However, the science to support these benefit claims just isn't solid—although that hasn’t stopped anecdotal testimonials from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, January Jones and Alicia Silverstone from touting perceived benefits of it to their fans.

But it turns out we need to be more careful about ingesting our own placenta than we may have thought.

Last year, a newborn in Oregon was diagnosed with a strep infection that was making it hard for the infant to breathe. The baby was given antibiotics to treat the infection, but ended up in the hospital soon after, testing positive for strep again.

Looking for a cause, doctors learned that the baby’s mother was taking dried placenta capsules and they instructed her to stop taking them. The doctors ran tests on the capsules to confirm their suspicion, and guess what? They tested positive for strep.

According to a report published this week by the CDC, a mother’s consumption of “contaminated placenta capsules might have elevated maternal GBS intestinal and skin colonization, facilitating transfer to the infant.” GBS refers to group B Streptococcus agalactiae bacteremia, the bacteria that infected the infant.

Whether a mom chooses to ingest her placenta after giving birth is up to her, but it’s important that both mothers and the medical community know the risks associated with it.

Doctors and health officials responsible for the report point out that the production of placenta capsules is not regulated—meaning there are no standards for safety—and it’s quite possible that the placenta in this particular case was not heated to a temperature that was high enough to kill dangerous pathogens.

Even though the CDC has not taken an official stance on placenta pill consumption, this report warns against the practice and encourages health care providers to warn new moms about the potential risks of placenta encapsulation.

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