It’s the act after the main act, so most new mothers don’t give the arrival of the placenta a second glance, destined as it is to be burned in an incinerator as “bio-hazardous waste”.
So why on earth is it becoming trendy to ask the midwife to pop it in a cool box for later consumption?
Advocates of "placentophagy" – eating the placenta – swear by the boost it gives to a new mother's mood, energy levels and milk production. And with celebrities such as January Jones, Kourtney Kardashian and Alicia Silverstone telling the world it worked for them, interest is growing.
Humans are one of the few mammals who do not routinely eat their afterbirth, although some argue that the reason animals do it may be more to do with deterring predators than an instinct about what’s nutritionally good for them.
The squeamish will be glad to hear that there is an alternative to frying your own placenta and tucking in with a knife and fork. At a cost of about €200, you can use a “placenta encapsulation” service to take away the bloody organ and convert it, through dehydration and powdering, into a box of clean, palatable, plastic-coated capsules to be ingested at your leisure.
Lisa Cotter is one of at least 20 women around the country offering this service, operating out of a spare study that she converted into a lab at her home near Midleton in Co Cork.
When she started she was doing about two a month, “Now I sometimes do two a day, depending on the week. I would be really, really busy.” Covering the whole of Munster, she has also had clients in Kilkenny, Clonmel and Dublin.
Not having heard of the practice before her first child Amber was born four years ago, Cotter trained in the UK with the Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network soon afterwards.
She had every intention of doing the process for herself after the birth of her second child Sofie, but a premature birth due, ironically, to a malfunctioning placenta that then had to be sent to pathology, thwarted the plan. So although Cotter was enabling other women to consume their placenta, she hadn’t experienced it herself.
“On my third baby I finally got to do it – Finn is 18 months now – and the difference was phenomenal. I couldn’t wait to try it to be honest; I was getting all this great feedback from mothers and I was always wondering, is it really that good?”
Cotter had haemorrhaged after the birth of Finn, so she first made herself a fresh placenta smoothie – “it was loaded with stem cells so it helped stop the bleeding” – before later taking capsules.
“I gave birth on the Monday and by the Thursday it was as if nothing had happened. I felt amazing; I had loads of energy; loads and loads of breast milk. I lost loads of hair on the first two and I barely lost any on the third.”
While she had not suffered post-natal depression after the first two, she did have “post-natal aggression. I was on edge with everybody. I didn’t have that at all on my third – and maybe you do chill out on your third but definitely I felt I wasn’t on edge at all.”
The hormones, the iron and vitamins in the placenta are the main things that would get you over the hump of the first couple of months of motherhood, adds Cotter, who is a member of the international Placenta Remedies Network.
Although personal testimonies about the benefits of placentophagy are compelling, a US study published in June 2015 concluded there was no scientific evidence to back them up. After reviewing 10 published research studies on the practice, researchers at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago found no data to support claims that it offers protection against post
natal depression, reduces post-delivery pain, boosts energy, helps with lactation, promotes skin elasticity, enhances maternal bonding, or replenishes iron in the body.
They also noted that there was no research on any potential risk of eating an organ which, as well as providing oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby, removes waste products from its blood.
Krysia Lynch, a doula in Dublin who also offers a placenta encapsulation service, acknowledges that there probably is no "gold standard" research to prove its benefits.
It’s problematic to do double-blind trials because it has to be your own placenta you eat, she points out. Also there is no money to be made out of doing trials because nobody is going to make money on a drug.
However, there is considerable positive clinical feedback, she says, with boosts to wellbeing and ability to breastfeed most commonly reported.
“There is quite a lot of survey-based research that would suggest women who have taken placenta encapsulation have found that their mood is much improved than when they didn’t with their first child – presumably that is due to the hormonal cocktail that you have got within the placenta. There is also oxytocin that will improve bonding.”
Lynch, a member of the Irish Placenta Association, reckons she processes, on average, two placentas a week now and reports an upsurge in interest. Part of that can be attributed, she believes, to migrants from Eastern Europe where placenta treatments have been more mainstream for years. "When I first started I got a lot of Eastern European clients and they wouldn't bat an eyelid about doing it. Now I am getting a lot of Irish women who are interested in it as well."
For more information see placentaremediesnetwork.org and irishplacenta.org