Chrissie Rus­sell

Celebs may like to eat theirs but Ir­ish mums have dis­cov­ered a novel and ben­e­fi­cial use for their af­ter­birth, writes

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - REAL LIFE -

TWO months be­fore she was due to give birth, Becky Cliss­mann’s mid­wife asked her a ques­tion no one had ever asked her. “She said: ‘Have you thought about what you’re do­ing with your pla­centa?’,” laughs the Wick­low mum. “It was some­thing I’d never even thought about be­fore.”

With her first child, Becky had a hospi­tal de­liv­ery, where her af­ter­birth was “whisked away” fol­low­ing the birth, but since she was hav­ing a home birth for her sec­ond, what to do with the pla­centa was sud­denly an im­por­tant ques­tion.

“I knew I couldn’t put it in the rub­bish,” says Becky, “and I know there’s a whole group of peo­ple that are keen on en­cap­su­lat­ing it and eat­ing it, and I’m very re­spect­ful of that, but it’s just not for me. At the same time I wanted to do some­thing worth­while. That’s when my mid­wife told me about ‘Tony Pla­centa’.”

The man with the in­ter­est­ing moniker turned out to be one of only a hand­ful of K9 train­ers work­ing with the Civil De­fence’s three trained Hu­man Re­mains De­tec­tion (HRD) dogs.

While air-scent­ing dogs are used to lo­cate liv­ing miss­ing peo­ple, HRD dogs are cru­cial in searches for the de­ceased. To train them, they need small amounts of blood and tis­sue — which is where pla­cen­tas come in.

“It had never oc­curred to me be­fore that ob­vi­ously search and res­cue dogs need to know what hu­man tis­sue smells like,” says Becky. “But once my mid­wife ex­plained to me, I thought ‘fan­tas­tic!’ I re­ally don’t need this any­more but wouldn’t it be amaz­ing if it could go to­wards help­ing some­one else? I’ve been a card­car­ry­ing or­gan donor since my early 20s, this felt like an ex­ten­sion of that.”

Ka­tri­ona Woods from Kil­dare had been plan­ning a home birth but ended up hav­ing a hospi­tal de­liv­ery. “My mid­wife asked me what I wanted to do with my pla­centa. I didn’t want to just dump it so I brought it home where it stayed in our freezer for ages!” she ex­plains. “Even­tu­ally I got a num­ber for a guy at the Civil De­fence and he was de­lighted to get it. It’s great to know I might have played some small part in a search and res­cue op­er­a­tion, it’s a shame more peo­ple don’t know it’s an op­tion.”

Un­til re­cently the af­ter­birth was very much an af­ter-thought but lately that seems to be chang­ing. More high-pro­file celebri­ties, such as Kim and Kourt­ney Kar­dashian, are bring­ing at­ten­tion to en­cap­su­lat­ing and eat­ing their pla­cen­tas fol­low­ing the birth, some­thing that sup­pos­edly aids the post-de­liv­ery re­cov­ery, although ex­perts ad­vise strongly against it. A re­cent case of Strep B in­fec­tion in a baby has been linked to the mother’s in­ges­tion of pla­centa pills.

But few peo­ple know about pla­centa do­na­tion. Last year, the Civil De­fence as­sisted in 80 searches with their dog teams of­ten a cru­cial part of those oper­a­tions. Just one or two pla­cen­tas are do­nated to them each year, but with just three HRD dogs in their team, they say there’s no cur­rent need for do­na­tions to be any higher. Doula Krysia Lynch, co­or­di­na­tor for the Home Birth As­so­ci­a­tion Ire­land and co-chair of the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Im­prove­ment in Ma­ter­nity Ser­vices (AIMS), says there’s a need for aware­ness of the op­tions avail­able for the pla­centa.

“If you’re happy to leave it in hospi­tal, that’s fine,” she says. “But I don’t think there is enough trans­parency on the dif­fer­ent op­tions avail­able or what hap­pens to the pla­centa if you leave it in hospi­tal.

“There seem to be dif­fer­ent things hap­pen­ing in dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals. Some places keep it for a long time and I’m not sure what’s hap­pen­ing there. In one hospi­tal there’s al­ways a piece miss­ing from the pla­centa when it comes back — what’s hap­pen­ing to that bit? If you don’t know, your mind con­jures up a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“I’ve had women ask for their pla­cen­tas to take home and they’ve been told they can’t have it. I think more trans­parency and greater aware­ness of choice would be help­ful,” she says.

If you don’t want to do­nate it, eat it or leave it with the hospi­tal, an­other op­tion is to freeze it and bury your pla­centa in the back gar­den, like Krysia did. “You have to bury it very deep,” she ex­plains. “We have an ap­ple tree over one of our chil­dren’s pla­cen­tas and it bears ap­ples around the time of year he was born. I like to think of it as a cir­cle of life, it’s still giv­ing.”

She reck­ons squea­mish at­ti­tudes need to change. “We need to stop see­ing the af­ter­birth as the ‘yucky bit’,” she ex­plains. “I’ve been at

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