Every once in a while, I'll get asked if it's safe to encapsulate a placenta when mom tests positive for Group B Streptococcus (GBS). The short answer is YES, ABSOLUTELY! The evidence shows us that testing positive for GBS (simply being colonized) is not a safety concern for consuming a properly prepared placenta. GBS is a type of bacteria that is present in all of us at one point or another and is normally found in the vagina and/or rectum of about 25% of all healthy, adult women (1).
Recently, an article from the CDC has been circulating, leading some to believe that women who test positive for GBS are at risk when consuming their placenta. (2) The mother in this story tested negative for GBS at 37 weeks and had a normal vaginal delivery. Shortly after birth, her baby developed signs of respiratory distress and was transferred to the NICU. Mom had her placenta encapsulated, and baby was later reinfected with GBS. Unfortunately, there are many holes in the CDC's story that are not being translated to the circulating news stories (shocking, I know). As a trained and professional encapsulator, safety is absolutely my number one concern and I take it very seriously. Your safety and satisfaction is also my livelihood and reputation!
Here's why we can say that encapsulation is still safe for a GBS positive mom:
1) The evidence shows that proper steaming and dehydration temperatures will drastically reduce microbial counts, making placenta consumption generally safe. According to Jena University, "the preparation of placental tissue has a clear effect on the microbial contamination: dehydration causes a drastic germ reduction, steaming followed by dehydration causes an even greater reduction of microbial species. Regarding to foodstuff regulations of the European Union, no “unsafe” organisms were detected in our samples."' (3) Basically, to effectively kill GBS bacteria, placentas need to be heated to 130 degrees F for at least 30 minutes (4). The encapsulator in this specific story used the "raw prep method" and did not steam the placenta before dehydrating it, so it's possible that it was not prepared according to food safety guidelines. We don't know what dehydration temperature was used, but if it was below 130 degrees, the placenta was not properly heated to kill the GBS or other bacteria. To ensure safety during preparation, Woman Craft Austin follows strict, standard protocol for each placenta and does not offer raw preparation (remember, you can be GBS+, even when you test negative?) Each placenta is steamed for 30 minutes (with an internal temperature check) before dehydrating at 145 degrees F for a minimum of 10-12 hours. All this being said, I do know a handful of women who have consumed their placentas raw after testing positive for GBS, and they were fine. It's just not an option I feel comfortable offering when providing the service professionally.
2) We also know that this baby showed signs of initial infection soon after birth and before placenta pills were even returned to mom. The placenta likely should not have been prepared for encapsulation since an infection present in mom during labor (chorioamnionitis), or a baby that is sent to the NICU for infection, means that the placenta cannot be safely ingested. This is why I always ask about signs of infection at pickup.
3) As far as the baby's reinfection of GBS, it is pretty clear that reinfection was likely not actually caused by mom's ingestion of placenta pills, whether they were properly prepared or not. We can say this because mom's breastmilk tested negative for GBS! Since there are over 16 strands of strep, no one else in the immediate family was tested, strep can be spread through touch and certain foods (5), and mom's breastmilk tested negative for GBS, the evidence just isn't there. Even the CDC says "transmission from other colonized household members could not be ruled out." Correlation does not mean causation.
What happened to this mom and baby is sad and scary, but pointing to placenta encapsulation is not supported by the evidence provided and may likely keep birthing people from utilizing a service that could really help with their postpartum transition. Although it's possible that incorrect steps were taken in the preparation process, and incorrect information and generalizations are being shared in the media, placenta encapsulation (the weird, kind of gross, redheaded stepchild of birth stuff) is always easy target. With Woman Craft Austin, your safety is my number one priority. I have trained with two professional encapsulation organizations (PBi and APPA) and I'm trained in proper food safety handling and OSHA handling of bloodborne pathogens.
I absolutely stand behind my services and truly believe in the unique benefits of placenta encapsulation. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns! Here's a few other blogs by professional encapsulators addressing this issue: Correlation Isn't Causation and Encapsulation Safety.
1. Group B Strep Infection- American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/group-b-strep-infection/
2. Buser GL, Mató S, Zhang AY, Metcalf BJ, Beall B, Thomas AR. Notes from the Field: Late-Onset Infant Group B Streptococcus Infection Associated with Maternal Consumption of Capsules Containing Dehydrated Placenta — Oregon, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:677–678. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6625a4.
3. Johnson, Sophia. Preliminary Research Results. April 2017. Jena University. https://experiment.com/u/DKKnUQ
4. Streptococcus Agalactiae. 2011. Public Health Agency of Canada. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/streptococcus-agalactiae-eng.php
5. Manning, Shannon. Clinical Infections Diseases. Volume 39, issue 3. Prevalence of Group B "Streptococcus Colonization and Potential for Transmission by Casual Contact in Healthy Young Men and Women". August 2004.