Eating their placentas has become a trendy practice among new moms because of claims that it prevents postpartum depression, boosts breast milk production, improves bonding between the mother and baby and reduces postpartum pain and bleeding.
Women eat their placentas raw, cooked, steamed, blended, dehydrated and in pill form. Encapsulation is the most popular way to eat the placenta. Companies around the country offer processing services to prepare placentas for eating.
Despite growing popularity of placenta eating, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging doctors to advise against the practice because of risks and lack of proven benefits.
“I counsel women who ask about taking their placentas home on the potential contamination risk if it’s processed and consumed,” said Dr. Sarah Goetz, a Marshfield Clinic OB-GYN physician.
“Eating your placenta is not something I encourage, but that can be a difficult conversation because I don’t want women to not seek medical care because they don’t feel supported in their decisions.”
Your placenta may be infectious or toxic
The CDC has warned against eating placenta because of infection concerns.
The placenta transports oxygen and nutrients to the fetus during pregnancy. It also filters toxins so they don’t pass to the baby. Different methods of preparing placenta may not kill infections the mother had during pregnancy. A newborn in 2017 developed sepsis after the mother ate group B Streptococcus-infected placenta capsules.
“There is a risk that toxic substances from using drugs or smoking can accumulate in the placenta during pregnancy,” Goetz said.
These substances can harm the mother or breastfeeding newborn. Cadmium, a heavy metal, was found in low but detectable levels in placenta capsules. Taking multiple pills may have a toxic effect.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate placenta encapsulation because it’s not considered a food or a drug. Without standards, it’s hard to know if the placenta is being processed safely.
Placenta eating has no proven benefits
Lab rats that ate their placentas showed increased pain tolerance, but no randomized control trials have shown beneficial effects in humans.
One study showed that women who ate placenta pills didn’t have better iron stores than women who took placebo pills. Nutrients from the placenta are lost during processing, reducing the likelihood of benefit to the mother.
“Possible benefits of eating placenta are based on self-reported information, which can be unreliable,” Goetz said.
The placenta may need to be tested
If you decide you want to eat your placenta, you may run into a problem before having your first bite. The hospital may have a good reason to keep your placenta.
Some health care systems won’t release placentas because they are human tissue and need to be disposed of as biohazardous waste.
Sometimes hospitals are willing to release placentas but need to keep them for pathology testing. Most placentas don’t need to be tested, but your doctor may want yours checked if you had complications during pregnancy or delivery.
If you eat your placenta and start feeling ill, let your doctor know and save any remaining capsules or uneaten portions for testing.