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Maternal Placenta Ingestion Could Increase Infant's Risk for Late-Onset Neonatal GBS Infection

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes a closer look at a case of late-onset neonatal Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) infection and its association with maternal consumption of placenta capsules.

Despite the fact that placenta ingestion has become somewhat of a trend, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that by consuming these capsules, mothers can transmit a potentially deadly infection to their infants.

The report highlights a case that was reported to the Oregon Health Authority involving a mother who consumed placenta capsules and ended up spreading group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacteremia to her infant.

The infant was born healthy in September 2016; however, shortly after birth the infant started to exhibit respiratory distress. The baby was taken to a neonatal intensive care unit, where blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was collected for culture. The results of the blood sample tested positive for “penicillin-sensitive, clindamycin-intermediate GBS,” according to the CDC report. The CSF sample tested negative. After receiving 200 mg/kg of ampicillin daily for 11 days, the infant was discharged.

Five days later, after exhibiting irritability, the infant was taken to the emergency department and was then admitted to a second hospital. A blood culture tested positive for penicillin-sensitive, clindamycin-intermediate GBS; however, the “CSF was sterile, [and] expressed breast milk [from the mother] did not yield GBS, and serial exams did not reveal a source,” authors of the report wrote.

Three days later, the treating physician learned from a physician who worked at the hospital where the mother gave birth that the mother “requested release of the placenta at the time of delivery,” according to the report. When asked, the mother confirmed that she had registered with a company identified as Company A, to encapsulate her placenta for later ingestion. Three days after the infant was born, the mother began ingesting 2 capsules, 3 times a day. After learning this, the treating physician told the mother to stop taking the capsules. The authors of the report note that the capsules were then cultured and the results tested positive for the same strain of GBS that had infected the baby.

The possibility of a household member transmitting the infection to the baby cannot be fully ruled out, according to the authors; however, “the final diagnosis was late-onset GBS disease attributable to high maternal colonization secondary to consumption of GBS-infected placental tissue.”

Placental encapsulation is a growing trend, and traditional and holistic medical customs suggest that placenta consumption could yield several potential benefits. According to the American Pregnancy Association, some of the potential benefits include:

  • Increased release of oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to normal size and encourages bonding with the infant
  • Increase in corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), a stress-reducing hormone
  • Decrease in post-partum depression levels
  • Restoration of iron levels in the blood
  • Increase in milk production

However, there is little scientific evidence that supports this.

In fact, in a news article covering the report, Cynthia Cole, LCSW, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago stressed, “The bottom line is that there are no human studies that show a benefit to eating the placenta.”

According to the report, Company A cleans, slices, and dehydrates the placentas at 115°F to 160°F, then grounds the placentas and places them in capsules which are stored at room temperature. However, the CDC stresses that no standards currently exist for processing placentas for consumption.

The authors note that in order to reduce Salmonella, products must be heated to 130°F for 121 minutes; however, “in this case, heating for sufficient time at a temperature adequate to decrease GBS bacterial counts might not have been reached.” Consuming placenta capsules that are contaminated with the bacteria could result in “elevated maternal GBS intestinal and skin colonization,” which could result in transferring the bacteria on to the infant.

“The placenta encapsulation process does not per se eradicate infectious pathogens; thus, placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided,” the authors write. They continued, “In cases of maternal GBS colonization, chorioamnionitis, or early-onset neonatal GBS infection, ingestion of capsules containing contaminated placenta could heighten maternal colonization, thereby increasing an infant’s risk for late-onset neonatal GBS infection.”

The authors recommend that, when investigating cases of late-onset GBS infections, clinicians should ask mothers if they have a history of placenta ingestion. Furthermore, they should also ensure that mothers who are interested in placenta ingestion are informed of the potential associated risks.