In June 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an article that connected GBS infection in a newborn to placenta consumption (see article here: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6625a4.htm). Since then, mothers that test GBS positive have been wondering whether placenta encapsulation is safe for their babies. It is safe when properly handled and processed.
GBS is short for Group B Streptococcus. It is one of many bacteria that live on our bodies. 10% to 35% of pregnant women will have GBS bacteria in their vagina or rectum. There is a standard test at 37 weeks of gestation to check mother's colonization. GBS may cause sickness in babies in the first 7 days of life or after 7 days. The most common way for babies to get the bacteria is through their mothers in labor.
It is really unfortunate what the family covered by the CDC article had to go through. The baby was born infected with strep B and subsequently hospitalized. Several days after the release from the hospital, unfortunately, the baby had to return as the infection was still present and needed more treatment. What was discovered was that the mother was taking placenta capsules. The capsules were tested and came back positive for the same Strep B threat with which the baby was infected. Even though there was no strep B present in the mother’s milk, there was speculation that the capsules could have attributed to the mother’s colonization of the bacteria that was passing it onto the child either through skin or mucus membranes.
This case must be taken seriously by both parents considering placenta encapsulation as well as placenta encapsulation practitioners.
I have been safely offering placenta encapsulation services in Ottawa and its area since 2011. I have always taken an extreme precaution when cleaning and sterilizing my equipment. I use single-use equipment whenever I can, such as disposable sterile gloves, disposable plastic cutting boards, etc. The surface I work on is covered with one-time use plastic and the dehydrator is lined with one-time use parchment paper sheets for the placenta to not come into contact with any of the equipment used other than the stainless steel knife. At the end of the process, the entire work surface gets sterilized and washed whether or not it was exposed to any fluids. The standard procedure is soap and warm water as well as a soak in 10% bleach solution for at least 10 minutes, which is equivalent to boiling all of the equipment.
My heart goes out to the family who had to suffer through their initial hospitalization and their re-hospitalization of their newborn baby, especially since it could have potentially been avoided. In this particular case, the baby developed the infection right after birth. To me, that is a contraindication for placenta consumption. In the case of infection during labor and delivery, which could be recognized either by a mother developing a fever during birth or a newborn developing signs of infection after the birth, the placenta gets infected as well and is not suitable for consumption. In my 6 years of practice, whenever a mother developed an infection during the labor and delivery, the placenta was never released to the parents by local hospitals. I am not sure why the placenta was released in this case and whether the practitioner knew that the placenta was infected.
I presume the practitioner processed the placenta in accordance with how the process is explained on her website and as mentioned in the article: for the Raw method, she sets the processing temperature between 115 F - 160 F. These temperatures would not be enough to kill potential infection pathogens. In my practice, the Raw method is processed very differently. The placenta is dehydrated raw, but at least at 170 F for 12-24 hours. This ensures that the placenta is dry enough and that any potential infection pathogens are not present. However, I should mention that I do offer a smoothie service where a small raw piece of placenta is blended with fruits and honey for an immediate hormonal reset for the mother. I have been practicing the service safely for over 6 years because I had never processed an infected placenta, period - whether the placenta was infected during labor and delivery, or where a baby developed an infection after the birth, or when a mother tested GBS positive at gestation.
In the case discussed by the CDC, the mother was actually GBS negative when tested at 37 weeks of gestation, but baby's infection developed right after the birth would be a contraindication to her placenta consumption. Also, it is a speculation that should be taken seriously that the mother was colonized with strep B by the infected placenta capsules and subsequently passed it onto her child. However, it is impossible to know if that is the case. GBS infection does have a low rate of recurrence in infants.
To any of my clients or parents who are considering placenta encapsulation for their postpartum recovery and are tested GBS positive, I highly recommend going with the Traditional Chinese Method. In the Traditional Chinese Method, the placenta is gently steamed first with antibacterial and antiviral properties of ginger, hot pepper and lemon. Only then, the placenta is dehydrated at 170℉ for 12-24 hours. This is the proper method of preparation that is safe for consumption even in the case of GBS colonization.
If in an unfortunate turn of events a mother happens to develop a Strep B infection during the labor and delivery (which is very rare) or a child developed an infection right after the birth (also rare), please, choose not to proceed with placenta encapsulation.
Stay safe and make informed decisions for yourselves and your baby!