Health Tips The scary reason why doctors are telling women not to eat their placentas

Concerned parents are wondering just how common is it for placenta pills to become contaminated.

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Celebs like Kourtney and Kim Kardashian, Katherine Heigl, January Jones, and Tia Mowry all say they encapsulated their placentas post-birth, ingesting these "afterbirth" pills in the hopes of reaping reported rewards like improved mood and reduced risk for postpartum depression.

But in a new case report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors found that a five-day-old infant recently became sick after its mother took placenta pills.

Here's what happened: Shortly after birth, the baby experienced breathing difficulties and was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, where it tested positive for a bacterial infection called group B streptococcus (GBS). This bacteria is normally found in the vagina or rectum of one-quarter of healthy women, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Women are tested for this during pregnancy, as they can pass this onto their children during birth, though this baby's mother tested negative for it at 37 weeks.

The baby was given a course of antibiotics and sent home, but returned to the hospital five days later where it again tested positive for GBS. Doctors were stumped—until they learned that after giving birth, the mother sent her placenta to be encapsulated. Sure enough, after testing the placenta pills, doctors found they were positive for GBS.

The physician advised the mother to stop consuming the pills, and the baby was sent home after being successfully treated.

But now, concerned parents are wondering just how common is it for placenta pills to become contaminated.

“There is always concern for infection, and there are concerns as to how the placenta is handled and stored post birth,” says Kecia Gaither, M.D., an ob-gyn and maternal fetal medicine physician. There are also no across-the-board standards for encapsulating a placenta, and common methods may not kill all potential pathogens, the CDC report points out.

Beyond that, many doctors are skeptical of the alleged health benefits of ingesting placenta pills. “I tell patients that there is no hard scientific data addressing the benefits,” says Gaither. In fact, a 2015 Women's Mental Health review of 10 human and animal studies looking at the benefits of eating placenta didn’t identify any physical or psychological perk to the pills, including boosting energy or improving recovery.

“We don’t have enough evidence to say that taking it works as well or more effectively than other things like psychotherapy,” says Crystal Clark, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who co-authored the 2015 study. Other methods, like being treated early if you have a history of depression and building a support team around you (asking for help, seeking out childcare) are things that you can do to reduce your risk of postpartum, she adds.

That said, Clark says that it’s really the woman’s choice whether or not she wants to do it.

Gaither agrees, adding, “I don’t tell women not to indulge in eating their placenta, but I give them information to investigate before they ingest it.”

Still, the CDC stands by its report, writing that "no standards exist for processing placenta for consumption" and that "placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided."

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