Q: My daughter, who is pregnant, has begun talking about this wacky idea that, after the baby is born, she is going to take pills made from her placenta. She claims the Chinese have been doing this for centuries and that it has benefits for new mothers. I’m curious what experts think of this.
G.S., of Granite City
A: Not much. Despite the usual Hollywood celebrity endorsements, this is one case where you probably should throw out the bathwater (i.e., the placenta), so you don’t risk losing the baby.
Case in point: In September 2016, an Oregon infant was admitted to two different hospitals within weeks of the child’s birth. Both times, a Streptococcus bacteremia was found in the blood, but doctors initially were left scratching their heads as they searched for a cause, according to a study later published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Finally, three days into the child’s second hospitalization, the doctor at the birth hospital informed the treating physician that, shortly after her baby’s birth, the mother had started taking six pills a day made from her dehydrated placenta. When the pills were tested, they were found to contain the bacteria, which can cause sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis. She was told to stop taking the pills immediately, and, after a two-week course of antibiotics, the child had no further problems.
If you’re curious about the theory behind it, here’s the story: The placenta is an organ that provides nutrients, blood and oxygen to the fetus in the womb. After birth, it’s no longer needed, so it is expelled. Yet apparently for centuries, the Chinese, for example, have dried the placenta and used it in their folk remedies to prevent and treat a host of conditions, including disease, impotence and infertility. Proponents point to other mammals in nature eating their placenta after birth, but scientists say this is likely to hide the birth from predators rather than any medicinal benefits.
Nevertheless, according to the American Council on Science and Health, the idea seems to be gaining a foothold in Western society, where mothers are paying to have their placentas dried and ground into approximately 200 capsules taken during the postnatal period. According to AmericanPregnancy.org, ingestion of the pills may increase production of a stress-relieving hormone, decrease postpartum depression, restore iron levels in the blood and increase the production of the mother’s milk.
However, the website also points out, “The few scientific studies conducted on placental encapsulation have not conclusively supported the effects of this practice.” Worse, says the ACSH, the companies that provide the service are not regulated so you can’t be sure what you are getting. In the case of the Oregon infant, the CDC is guessing that the heat used to dry the placenta did not reach a sufficient level to kill the bacteria. Hence, the mother ingested it and passed it to her child at a most vulnerable time.
Conclusion: The ACSH suggests your daughter has a chance of inflicting great harm with little documented benefit.
Why did actor Jackie Cooper entitle his autobiography “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog” of all things?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: So how far above sea level is the Amsterdam airport? Sorry, trick question. Just as Amsterdam itself is about 6 feet below sea level, Schiphol Airport is also below sea level — as much as 11 feet at its lowest point. The name, by the way, comes from Fort Schiphol, one of 42 forts constructed between 1880 and 1920 that made up the Defense Line of Amsterdam, or the Stelling van Amsterdam. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.