Is Placenta Encapsulation Safe For GBS Positive Mothers?

Is Placenta Encapsulation Safe For GBS Positive Mothers?

Placenta ingestion has increased in popularity in recent years.

For many centuries, many different cultures have participated in placenta ingestion (placentophagy), but Western cultures have only recently caught on.

Placenta ingestion is as simple as it sounds.

After the placenta is birthed, it is ingested in some form. Some women will use it in the raw form, adding it to smoothies or freezing slices of it.

Many women, however, prefer placenta encapsulation, where the placenta is prepared and placed into capsules. They find taking prepared placenta capsules much more palatable than ingesting the raw placenta.

Is Placenta Encapsulation Safe For GBS Positive Mothers?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently released a case study on a newborn that had a recurrent Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection after the mother had her placenta encapsulated.

This has led to health officials issuing a warning against placenta encapsulation, and has left women wondering whether it could make their babies unwell.

What Is GBS?

Group B Streptococcus bacteria live on our skin and thrive in mucous membranes, such as the vagina. These bacteria are found in approximately 25% of pregnant mothers.

A positive GBS test result shows there is an abundance of GBS bacteria in the vagina at that time. Colonisation doesn’t mean you have an active GBS infection.

If colonisation occurs during birth, it can lead to an infection in a newborn. Most babies who are exposed to GBS don’t become infected, but a small number do, and it can lead to serious complications.

In many countries, women are routinely tested for GBS at 37 weeks. However, GBS is transient, which means you might have a negative test result at 37 weeks, and be positive for GBS during labour – and vice versa.

If you test positive for GBS, you don’t necessarily have the infection; it simply means you have a colonisation. You will be offered antibiotics during labour as a prophylactic.

Find out more about Group B Strep During Pregnancy here.

What Did The Case Study Show?

In 2016, health authorities in Oregon were notified of a case of late onset GBS in a newborn; it had occurred five days after treatment for early onset GBS.

The mother had been tested for GBS at 37 weeks pregnancy, with a negative result. She showed no signs of maternal GBS colonisation. Soon after birth, the newborn showed signs of infection and a test showed positive for GBS.

The baby was then hospitalised for over a week and treated with antibiotics. Within a week of being released from hospital, the newborn again showed signs of infection, and tested positive for the same strain of GBS.

It was discovered at this time the mother had begun to take placenta capsules on the third day after the birth. The capsules were tested, and were found to contain the same strain of GBS bacteria that had infected the baby. Tests of the mother’s breastmilk showed no signs of GBS, and so it was ruled out as a potential source of infection.

The authors of the report inferred that ingestion of the GBS positive placenta capsules might have elevated maternal GBS intestinal and skin colonisation, and allowed transfer to the newborn.

The authors concluded by stating: “The placenta encapsulation process does not, per se, eradicate infectious pathogens; thus, placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided”.

It’s important to note this is not the official stance of the CDC but of the authors of the article.

How Does Reinfection Happen?

It was speculated that the recurrence of the GBS infection was due to the placenta capsules; it is impossible, however, to be absolutely sure of the cause.

Research indicates that a baby who has recovered from a GBS infection is at a low, but slightly increased, risk of re-infection. Reinfection is believed to occur as a result of exposure to colonised family members (not just the mother).

It is also possible that the original infection isn’t controlled by antibiotics and can therefore reoccur.

In this particular case study, the authors suggest the reinfection occurred because of the placenta capsules, which would have caused the mother to be colonised with GBS.

However, as the article indicates, there is the possibility other family members were colonised with GBS, and this caused the reinfection.

So How Did This Happen?

Since this case study report was released, placenta preparation associations and organisations around the world have noted a few concerns:

  • The placenta was dehydrated from a raw state, and possibly not for long enough at adequate temperatures to kill pathogens. According to the encapsulator's website, the placenta is dehydrated at 115°F–160°F (46°C–71°C). GBS bacteria can survive in a dry environment so dehydration alone wouldn't be sufficient to reduce GBS bacteria. Proper steaming and dehydration temperatures will reduce microbial counts.
  • If there is GBS infection in either mother or baby, immediately following birth, the placenta should not be consumed. Properly trained encapsulators should always inform their clients about any and all contra-indications to placenta consumption.
  • It is important to have proper training in blood borne pathogens and food safety, to ensure the practitioner is able to transport and process the placenta under proper food safety protocols. It is  not known what training and safety protocols were undertaken by this practitioner.

Is Placenta Encapsulation Safe?

The article notes there are no regulatory standards in place for placenta encapsulation. This is true, but training organisations who certify placenta encapsulation are rigorous in providing the highest safety protocols in their courses.

When choosing a placenta encapsulation service, there are a few things you should know:

  • Where have the practitioners trained? Learning about placenta preparation from YouTube or reading online sources isn’t enough.
  • What sanitisation processes do they use?
  • What food safety protocols do they follow?
  • At what temperatures do they steam/dehydrate, and for how long?

The CDC states in the article: “The placenta encapsulation process does not, per se, eradicate infectious pathogens; thus, placenta capsule ingestion should be avoided”.

Dr Sophia Johnson from Jena University, Germany, is undertaking research into the benefits of placenta encapsulation. Preliminary data that was released in April 2017 has found no unsafe organisms were found in properly prepared placental tissue.

The research team found dehydration reduced microbial counts, while steaming and dehydration result in even greater germ reduction. They also found levels of potential toxins, such as heavy metals, were well below acceptable levels.

For more information about placenta ingestion be sure to read Placenta Encapsulation – Why Placenta Pills Are Booming.

Interested In Having Placenta Encapsulation?

If you’d like more information or if you’re looking for someone who can encapsulate your placenta, check out who’s listed in the BellyBelly Marketplace in the Placenta Encapsulation section, which is available for those in Australia and the US.

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Sam McCulloch Dip CBEd CONTRIBUTOR

Sam McCulloch enjoys talking so much about birth that she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she watches Downton Abbey and has numerous creative projects on the go. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.


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