There is no scientific evidence that eating one's placenta is beneficial, but the government is more worried about the lack of regulation when it comes to processing.
Please don’t eat your placenta. This is the message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued a statement on June 30 urging new mothers to forego the practice of sending their placentas away for dehydration and encapsulation, and then eating them.
Eating one’s placenta has grown in popularity in recent years, as many women believe that ingesting the nutrients stored in the placenta can restore maternal energy, help with milk production, and offset post-partum depression. The rationale seems to be that other mammals do it (such as deer, I was told while pregnant), so why not humans? Kim Kardashian’s endorsement in 2015 likely helped, too.
While scientists point out that there are no proven benefits to eating one’s placenta, the CDC’s biggest concern seems to be the fact that placenta-processing is completely unregulated. (They did not comment on eating it fresh and raw, something that midwife friend of mine once witnessed.) Mother Jones writes:
“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 its recent statement, the CDC referenced a distressing case in Oregon last September, when a newborn infant was born healthy but soon contracted a GBS bacterium, despite the mother undergoing a routine test at 37 weeks’ gestation and testing negative at the time:
“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.” (via Mother Jones)
The infant recovered, after undergoing an 11-day course of antibiotics; but this close call is a valuable reminder of the need for caution. From CDC:
“No standards exist for processing placenta for consumption. Heating at 130°F (54°C) for 121 minutes is required to reduce Salmonella bacterial counts… In this case, heating for sufficient time at a temperature adequate to decrease GBS bacterial counts might not have been reached. Consumption of contaminated placenta capsules might have elevated maternal GBS intestinal and skin colonization, facilitating transfer to the infant. The placenta encapsulation process does not per se eradicate infectious pathogens.”
A safer approach would be to eat a well-balanced diet in the post-partum period, and to seek social support as much as possible in order to satisfy those needs that eating a placenta is believed by some to support.