With the imminent arrival of a new member of the royal family, there is a great deal of talk at the moment about birth plans and babies and if you are expecting your own bundle of joy in the coming days or weeks, are you amongst the small number of parents who are thinking about what is still an unusual and some might say repugnant practice of helping reduce the risk of post-natal depression and increase your 'happy' hormones?
Now for those who have experienced childbirth, it's a messy business isn't it? In fact I've often wondered about the sort of people who go into midwifery, all that blood and gore and I won't even mention the effect giving birth has on the bowels, I personally wouldn't want to be on the receiving end, but there are some people (thankfully) who want to do it.
Anyway after weeks of 'morning sickness', swollen hands and ankles, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, back ache, sore boobs....the list is endless; you would think the exhausted mother (and father for that matter) would just want to enjoy the safe arrival of their newborn and be on their way.
There is a growing trend in humans for placentophagy - the act of mammals eating the placenta.
Now before you make assumptions as to the sort of people who do this, let me give you some examples that may surprise you:
Kim Kardashian thinks it will improve her recovery rate and keep her looking younger;
January Jones (Mad Men fame) had hers put into capsule form;
Holly Madison (former Girls Next Door star) also had hers encapsulated;
And how could we forget Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's TV Dinners when he flambéed and puréed a placenta and served it like pâté to the baby's family and friends!
So with these endorsements, it must be worth considering, but are there any proven health benefits and what about the dangers?
The placenta is attached to the lining of your womb and keeps the foetus' blood supply separate from yours and it is linked to the foetus by the umbilical cord. The placenta is the conduit between you and your baby, passing food & oxygen one way and waste products the other.
After your baby has been born, the placenta should be the last part to come out of your body.
It contains prostaglandin: a chemical that helps shrink the uterus and oxyticin: a chemical that relaxes the mother and helps stimulate milk production.
American Dr David Ghozland MD says because the mother loses a lot of blood when giving birth and may also suffer from post-natal depression, as the placenta is rich in the mother's own hormones, iron & nutrients, it will help increase energy levels and reduce the subsequent pain of childbirth.
American midwife and clinical director of Sanctuary Birth & Wellness Centre Los Angeles, Aleks Evanguelidi says the placenta offers tremendous health benefits, including replenishing blood loss, helping to reduce hair loss, rebalance hormonal levels and help with milk production.
The Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network (IPEN) based in the UK is a group of people dedicated to bringing placentophagy into the mainstream.
So far the NHS and America's FDA have not agreed there is a health benefit.
Whilst it is preferable to consume the placenta within three hours of giving birth, it can be frozen for up to a month. For immediate consumption, you could have a placenta fruit smoothie: liquidise the placenta with your choice of fruit and enjoy.
Or you could go for the placenta cocktail:
- ¼ cup raw placenta
- 8oz V-8 juice
- 2 ice cubes
- ½ cup carrot
- Blend for 10 seconds and drink.
However, if you want to make a meal of it, there's placenta lasagne, stew, pizza, spaghetti or how about placenta roast?
('25 Placenta Recipes' is available from Amazon Kindle edition £2.03)
But if devouring the meaty version of a previously functioning part of your body doesn't appeal, you could have it 'encapsulated'.
The placenta is thoroughly cleaned then freeze dried and ground into a powder which is then put into capsules. It takes a few days to prepare but the capsules can then be frozen for years and saved until the onset of the menopause when the body's hormones once again become unbalanced.
However, if you really can't bring yourself to eat it, what about turning into a work of art? You can either try using the remaining blood in the placenta or cover it with ink, then placing it on a flat surface with the umbilical cord side up, put a piece of paper over the top of it and press down. Carefully lift the paper and admire your very unique masterpiece. It's meant to look like a tree but in my opinion it looks like a large worm leaving a rotten apple.
I suppose it might be an interesting dinner party conversation!
There is another alternative that Matthew McConaughey did for his son Levi and that is to bury it and plant a tree on top so the growth of the tree represents the growth of your child. This is more common in Hawaii and with Aboriginal Australians where it symbolises a connection with the child.
Whichever option you choose, it is going to need some planning and at the very least you need to tell your midwife or hospital that you intend keeping it. The majority of placentas are incinerated as they are considered 'human waste' and there is also the issue of diseases e.g. AIDS or HIV.
However, aside from all these issues, I can't help but feel it is a step too far; becoming a mother, especially for the first time, is a big enough shock in itself but perhaps I'm in the minority.