The Government Warns Against Eating Your Placenta

Among other dangers, placenta pills could carry dangerous bacteria.

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Mothers of newborns should not take pills containing their placenta, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned yesterday. The advisory came after doctors linked a newborn’s case of a dangerous infection—called group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacteremia—to her mother’s consumption of the baby’s placenta, dehydrated and encapsulated.

The trend of new mothers dosing themselves with placenta pills has taken off in the last few years, with encapsulation companies claiming that consumption of placenta can boost mothers’ energy, help them produce more milk, and ward off postpartum depression. Here’s how it works: After the baby is born, the hospital preserves the placenta—the organ that connects a fetus to the uterine wall and provides nutrition during gestation—for the family to take home. With some services, the family then sends the placenta to a facility for dehydration and encapsulation; other companies send a technician to the home with a food dehydrator and encapsulation supplies. Over the next few weeks, the mother consumes the capsules.  

The pills spiked in popularity in 2015 when Kim Kardashian, then pregnant with her son, Saint, wrote that she planned to take them. “I heard so many stories when I was pregnant with North of moms who never ate their placenta with their first baby and then had postpartum depression, but then when they took the pills with their second baby, they did not suffer from depression!” she wrote. “So I thought, why not try it? What do I have to lose?”

But scientists say there is no evidence to support claims of any health or psychological benefits of consuming the placenta. Furthermore, as this 2016 review in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing noted, placenta pills are not regulated—so there’s no way to know what’s actually inside them, or what goes on during the manufacturing process. That leaves women who consume the pills vulnerable to infection, environmental toxins, and exposure to potentially dangerous levels of hormones.

In the case that spurred the CDC’s warning, a newborn who was having trouble breathing was rushed to the emergency room and eventually diagnosed with GBS bacteremia. (Before giving birth, the infant’s mother had undergone a routine test for GBS—it was negative.) After samples from the disease infant’s blood matched ones from the placenta capsules that the baby’s mother had consumed, scientists concluded that the most likely source of the infection was contact with the mother, who had almost certainly contracted the bacteria from the pills but showed no symptoms of the illness herself. Luckily, the infant survived after a hospital stay and an intensive course of antibiotics.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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