A review of 23,000 birth records sheds light on why mothers eat placentas and whether consumption of it brings danger to their babies.
The study, which researchers claim to be the largest of its kind to focus on placentophagy, found that the practice brings no increased risk to babies, even if compared to infants whose mothers were not keen to eat their placentas.
The joint study conducted by researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Oregon State University also found that mothers who tend to practice placentophagy were those who suffered from anxiety and depression in the past. Hence, the most common reason women opted to eat their placenta was to prevent postpartum depression.
Who Practices Placentophagy?
The researchers led by Daniel Benyshek, a professor of anthropology at UNLV, examined the birth records from Neonatal Intensive Care Unit admissions in the first week of life, neonatal hospitalization in the first six weeks, and neonatal/infant death in the first six weeks.
One-third of the women from these records consumed their placentas after giving birth. The analysis also showed that most of these women were more likely from a minority racial or ethnic group or from the Western or Rocky Mountain states. They also acquired a bachelor's degree and most likely having their first babies.
The most common way for them is to have the placentas in capsules. It can either be cooked or raw, or dried and ground as well.
The researchers noted that placentophagy has become widespread in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and the United States. It has been getting popular among women who give birth at hospitals.
In June 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against consumption of placenta. The center highlighted that there is no scientific evidence to support the benefits of placentophagy.
The warning was made following a case of a newborn who contracted streptococcus agalactiae infection after the mother's consumption of an allegedly infected placenta. The case was notable as the baby was born healthy and only developed the infection a few days after going home.
It was found that her mother was ingesting placenta capsules after giving birth and the infection was being transferred to the baby through breastfeeding.
While there have been no guidelines set on the preparation involved in the encapsulation of placentas, CDC believed that the process might not have reached the sufficient amount of heat needed to kill bacteria.
Benyshek, however, maintained that their new findings published in the journal Birth offer insufficient grounds to caution women against human maternal placentophagy as far as the baby's health is concerned.
Although their analysis of birth records showed that mothers are likely to consume placenta to prevent postpartum depression, the researchers have yet to prove this point.
Melissa Cheyney, co-author of the study and medical anthropologist and associate professor at the Oregon State University's College of Liberal Arts, said there is no evidence to support that placentophagy is effective as a treatment for mood disorders.