There is a seemingly endless supply of parenting styles out there these days. Among the most popular is a style that takes its name from granola: crunchy. “Crunchy” parents are hyper-health conscious and naturally minded; they are basically hippies who became parents. Some of the hallmarks of crunchy parenting include natural birth, breastfeeding, putting a baby in a baby carrier (the verb is babywearing), co-sleeping and cloth diapering, to name a few.
The anti-vaccine movement is one of the strongest anti-science mainstays of “crunchy” parenting followers, popularized by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy. Now, celebrities are mainstreaming another crunchy motherly pastime: eating your placenta. Yes, I’m serious.
How, exactly does one consume one’s own placenta? If you’ve just had breakfast, skip the next paragraph.
Placentas can be made into food; either cooked, or even made into a smoothie. The most common way women eat their own placentas, however, is in pill form; placenta encapsulation specialists take the organ in a medical waste bag from the hospital and turn it into a pill.
Guess which celebrity has been leading the charge for popularization of placenta consumption? Kim Kardashian. Of course. Who better to take medical advice from than a woman who became a celebrity for releasing a sex tape? Like Jenny McCarthy, Kardashian is not a medical professional. In 2015, after the birth of her son, Kardashian wrote and spoke about her decision to take placenta pills. US Weekly reported on her comments:
Kim Kardashian revealed in a new blog post on Monday, December 14, that she is eating her placenta after giving birth to her second child, Saint West, and she even shared a photo of her supplements on her website.
“So, I’m really not this holistic person or someone who would have ever considered eating my placenta,” the mom of two, 35, wrote in her post titled “Eating My Placenta.”
“I actually thought Kourtney would have soooo done this, but I don’t think she did,” she continued. (Kourtney, however, did consume placenta pills.)
“And when I say ‘eat my placenta,’ I mean that I’m having it freeze-dried and made into a pill form—not actually fry it like a steak and eat it (which some people do, BTW).”
Kardashian said of trying the pills, which are said to stave off postpartum depression, “So I thought, why not try it? What do I have to lose?”
Last week, the case of a critically ill newborn answered Kardashian’s rhetorical question. The Washington Post reported on the baby, who, after being born healthy, was rushed to the hospital ill with late onset group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacteremia:
The woman—who was not identified in the CDC report—had been ingesting her placenta for weeks after registering with a company that processes and encapsulates the organ, which connects the developing fetus to the mother’s uterine wall. While she was ingesting placenta, the woman was also breast-feeding, which transferred the infection from mother to child.
Dr. Poppy Daniels told Acculturated, “While I’m a more natural-minded holistic OB/GYN, I’ve never been a fan of eating your placenta. The placenta is a detoxifying/filtering organ; why would you want to eat that? Although anecdotally some women report feeling better hormone-wise when ingesting placenta after childbirth, I can use real hormones for postpartum depression. Infection of the placenta (chorioamnionitis) during labor or a positive test result for the common bacteria Group B streptococcus, would be definite reasons to avoid eating your placenta. However, in this case, the mother tested negative during her pregnancy (probably a false negative test result). Since there are no really good studies proving benefit, it seems wise to avoid potential risk of pathogens by passing on placenta pills.”
Here’s another potentially horrifying reason why the mother’s placenta pills contained the infection, despite her own negative test results prior to birth: she might not have been consuming her own placenta or her pills were cross-contaminated with another person’s placenta during the encapsulation process. There is little scientific evidence behind the practice, and those in the business of encapsulation aren’t necessarily running sterile labs with safety procedures in place.
One of the attractions of crunchy parenting is the intersection of many of its practices with the attachment theory of parenting babies and young toddlers. I don’t fully buy into attachment parenting theory, but there is a great deal of scientific exploration into how to raise emotionally healthy children. The fact that the practice of placenta consumption isn’t encouraged by anyone in the medical profession, is not backed up by research, and instead is endorsed by the likes of Kim Kardashian, should be enough of a warning flag to any women considering the practice.
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