Updated: May 20, 2021
If I’m GBS positive, is it still safe to encapsulate and consume my (or my client’s) placenta?
A quick internet search brings up so many blogs full of opinions on one side or the other of this hot button issue. But we need FACTS. We want FACTS. And that’s why we’re here! So, let’s look at all the information available to us so we can confidently settle this debate—once and for all!
Let’s do a quick (as possible) recap before we dive in. What does it mean to be GBS positive?
GBS stands for group B Streptococcus and it’s a type of bacteria that is present in about 25% of all adult women. These bacteria have the potential to be passed to the baby during delivery in a small percentage of births. According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 1 in every 2,000 babies is effected by the GBS bacteria. Just because a mother tests positive for GBS bacteria it does not mean that her baby will be affected and become sick. Approximately 1 out of every 200 babies whose mothers tested positive for group B strep and did not receive antibiotics during labor will show symptoms of GBS. There are certain signs that healthcare providers look for that can indicate a mother may have a higher chance of delivering a baby with symptoms of illness caused by GBS. These signs include; giving birth or a rupture of membranes prior to 37 weeks, 18+ hours between the rupture of membranes and delivery, a fever during labor, a UTI as a result of GBS during pregnancy, a previous baby that tested positive for GBS. In these situations, most healthcare providers will recommend using antibiotics during delivery for a mom who tests positive for GBS. If a mom tests positive for GBS but does not fit into the criteria for being high risk, her chances for delivering a baby with GBS is 1 in 200 if antibiotics are not given and 1 in 4000 if antibiotics are given. (1)
One of the most frequent arguments against the consumption of placenta pills after a GBS+ diagnosis is the 2017 case study published by the CDC that linked a newborn baby’s recurrent strep infection with the mother’s ingestion of her encapsulated placenta. While baby and mom recovered and returned to health, it leaves many wondering; is it safe? Can the placenta pills actually infect the baby?
First, we should put this case into perspective.
There has only been ONE reported case of GBS being transferred to the baby by way of suspected infected placenta pills, EVER.
There have, however, been numerous documented cases (2) of infants contracting GBS through hospital-induced (aka: nosocomial) transmissions—likely in the hospital nursery or delivery room. The case study does indicate that the pills tested positive for GBS bacteria, but it doesn’t look at the GBS status of caregivers that had direct contact with the infant, and it doesn’t account for the possibility of a late-onset nosocomial infection.
Next, let’s look at the preparation of placenta for consumption through the lens of basic food safety. Most of us understand and are aware of these basic concepts, and the process of preparing a mother’s placenta for dehydration and encapsulation is no different. If bad bacteria are present on food items and not removed or killed through washing or the heating and cooking process, it has the potential to infect anyone who ingests it. This is why it’s so important that restaurants follow strict food safety guidelines and understand the concept of safe preparation.
Heating food for consumption to the proper internal temperature kills bacteria. Meat must be heated to an internal temperature of 145 degrees to ensure its safety. Placenta being prepared for consumption should also be heated to at least 145 degrees for the same reason. Studies that examined heating the placenta to the recognized safe temperatures showed elimination or greatly reduced bacterial loads to levels well under the accepted threshold for consumption as per strict U.K. standards(3). The study concluded that after dehydration, the vaginal flora microorganisms that had been present on the placenta sample swabs had mostly disappeared(4). So, while it’s true that these studies did not look at placentas colonized specifically with GBS microorganisms, we can be optimistic that those organisms would respond similarly.
Another food safety concept that translates into the practice of placenta encapsulation is the idea of keeping food cold or frozen to ensure freshness. Any perishable food that is being kept for consumption must be refrigerated or frozen at a temperature of 40 degrees or less. If food is stored at a temperature above 40 degrees for more than 4 hours it is no longer safe for consumption. So, the placenta must be kept refrigerated or frozen after 4 hours to be deemed safe for encapsulation and consumption.
So, what’s the verdict?
Simply put, there is not enough evidence proving that GBS is easily transmitted through placenta consumption. When a placenta is properly stored and prepared the risk of transmission of any microorganism is drastically reduced, making consumption relatively risk-free. When following OSHA approved guidelines for storing and preparing food for human consumption the risk to mother or infant are extremely minimal and the benefits are plenty!