I’ve heard that consuming your placenta after giving birth can help new mothers with postpartum depression and ease pain. Is that true?
The placenta is an organ that connects a developing fetus to the mother’s uterine wall. It transports oxygen and other nutrients for fetal growth and filters toxins harmful to the developing baby. It is dispelled from the woman’s body after birth.
The practice of eating the placenta – which is typically eaten raw, cooked, drank in smoothies, or dehydrated into a capsule form – after birth has grown in popularity among some mothers who say that it improves breast milk supply, reduces postpartum bleeding, and prevents postpartum depression, among other advantages.
However, in a study published Aug. 28 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers reviewed over 100 placenta consumption or placentophagy studies worldwide and found no evidence of it being beneficial to mothers.
Instead, the study’s authors advise, based on their research, that obstetricians discourage their patients from consuming placenta in any form, not only because there is no benefit, but also because it can potentially be harmful to both women and their babies.
A similar warning was issued in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to new moms about the potential dangers of taking pills made from placenta. The warning came after an infant developed a recurring case of group B Streptococcus sepsis after its mother consumed contaminated placenta capsules that had the same form of Streptococcus.
"Placenta ingestion has recently been promoted to postpartum women for its physical and psychological benefits, although scientific evidence to support this is lacking," the CDC said in a written statement.
In addition, they said that there are no safety standards set for processing placenta for consumption, and that the “placenta encapsulation process does not per se eradicate infectious pathogens; thus, placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided."
That means that if the placenta is not properly prepared, it can harbor dangerous bacteria and viruses including HIV, hepatitis and Zika, the study authors said.
The bottom line, according to the study’s authors, is “there is evidence that mothers who have eaten their placenta can spread serious bacterial infections to their baby and may develop infections themselves. Given documented harms and unproven benefits, placenta consumption is discouraged.”
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Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.
OSU Extension, Community Nutrition