It's a controversial practice many moms—including the Kardashian sisters—swear by that may soon become less contentious. New research indicates consuming placenta doesn't put a mother's baby at risk.
According to a joint study by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Oregon State University published this month in the journal Birth, moms who ingest their placenta pass no harm to their infants.
The study comes on the heels of a report published last year in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, discouraging the practice of consuming placenta, known as placentophagy. That report details a case in which a newborn baby developed group B Streptococcus sepsis (GBS) after the mother ingested placenta capsules. While there was no definitive proof that the baby got sick because of the mother's placenta pills, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advised against placenta capsule ingestion in an abundance of caution.
"When the placenta passes after the baby through the birth canal, and it will also come in contact with these pathogens lingering in the recto-vaginal area. Eating that contaminated placental tissue could then further expose the woman and her baby to those invasive pathogens," the lead author of the report, infectious disease expert Dr. Genevieve Buser, told Motherly last year.
The authors of the new study say their findings contrast the previous report and the CDC's stance. "Our findings were surprising given the recent guidelines recommending against placenta consumption, as well as the known risks of consuming uncooked or undercooked meat," said Daniel Benyshek, a professor of anthropology at UNLV and the study's lead author. "These new findings give us little reason to caution against human maternal placentophagy out of fear of health risks to the baby."
Benyshek's team reviewed about 23,000 birth records and found there was no increased risk of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit admissions, hospitalization or infant death in the first six weeks of life due to a mother's ingestion of placenta.
While the study did not examine the impact of placentophagy on postpartum mood disorders, the authors note that women who reported a history of anxiety or depression were more likely to consume their placentas, and that preventing postpartum depression was the most common reason women cited for choosing to consume their placenta.
"While there is currently no evidence to support the efficacy of placentophagy as treatment for mood disorders such as postpartum depression, our study suggests that if neonatal infection from maternal consumption of the placenta is possible, that it is exceedingly rare," said study co-author Melissa Cheyney, a licensed midwife, medical anthropologist and associate professor at Oregon State.
Professors Benyshek and Cheyney say there does appear to be a small, dose-specific impact on maternal hormones after a mom ingested placenta, but that more research is needed. A previous study by Benyshek and UNLV researcher Sharon M. Young found no evidence that placenta capsules boost postpartum mood better than a placebo, but Cheyney says the work being done gives researchers " a foundation from which to further explore the impact of placenta consumption on postpartum mood disorders."
It might also give mothers who choose to consume placenta some peace of mind. The CDC does not recommend the practice, but many mothers do swear by it. If it's something you're considering it's important to talk about it with your healthcare provider, and if you do choose to partake in placenta encapsulation, it's important to do your research on placenta encapsulation providers.
Jodi Selander is the founder of Placenta Benefits.info, and created encapsulation standards that are used by practitioners and researchers around the world, including at UNLV. She previously told Motherly she recommends the placenta be steamed before it is dehydrated and made into capsules, as this reduces bacterial presence.
Whatever you choose, loop in your doctor or midwife to make sure you have all the information you need.