Mother of twins: I stir-fried and ate my placentas

Mother of twins: I stir-fried and ate my placentas
PHOTO: The Straits Times

It was really chewy, had a texture similar to a "soggy mushroom", and went quite well with soya sauce and sesame oil, mother-of-twins Aileen Lee says.

If you hadn't known, you'd have thought that the property agent, whose twins are four years old, was describing a dish (stewed venison or beef, perhaps?) she had for dinner last night.

Actually, Aileen was talking about her placentas - each the size of a palm - which she had boiled and eaten with her favourite sauce over three days after her delivery.

Not one to be squeamish about blood and gore, she had decided to consume her placenta after reading about its benefits.

"How could my own meat be harmful to me? My boys obtained nourishment through (the placentas) for nine months," she says.

"I'm a practical person and won't do something without knowing anything about it. I read the placenta is nutritious and that many mammals consume theirs after delivery. Well, the only thing I hadn't foreseen and planned for was having twins."

Her relatives weren't as gung-ho about it, though. Her own mother thought she had gone bonkers. Her husband asked if she knew what she was doing, while her horrified mother-in-law simply walked away while she was chomping down slivers of boiled placenta.

"I don't care what other people say. To me, it's food that other mammals would eat," quips Aileen.

In Singapore, most mothers let the hospital staff dispose of their placentas after childbirth. Some parents in the Malay community collect the organ after delivery and bury it.

And then there are a handful of mums like Aileen who bring their placentas home and make a meal out of it.

Shirlynn Yong, senior manager of Inpatient Operations at Raffles Hospital, notes that once every few months, the hospital gets requests from mothers who wish to keep their placentas. She adds that those not returned to patients are disposed of in a biohazard bag.

While it all sounds very cannibalistic, the practice of eating one's placenta, also known as placentophagy, is not new in traditional Chinese medicine.

Ping Min Medicinal Hall, which operates an online business called Heavenly Health Store, has been offering placenta encapsulation services since the 1950s.

Ping Min's spokesperson, Yeo Chuan Hong, explains how the service works. After a client delivers her baby, a staff member collects the placenta from the hospital.

The organ is then labelled, thoroughly cleaned using a "chemical-free process" and dried using a special dryer. The dried placenta is ground into powder, encapsulated and delivered to the client's home within a week.

Chuan Hong declines to reveal the number of customers who request for placenta encapsulation services each month, but says he has seen a good 30 per cent increase in customer referrals in the past three years.

Doula Linda Ho, who ate her own placenta after the birth of her third child, says she has helped several close friends process and encapsulate their placentas after delivery.

Linda is not TCM-trained but says she consulted her father-in-law, who's a trained TCM physician, on how to clean and dry human placentas. On average, a processed placenta typically yields enough pills for a mum to consume over several months.

"In the West, some mums even eat it raw by making smoothies out of their placenta. But this is generally not as acceptable to Singapore mums, who may feel squeamish about the blood and smell," she says.

According to Chuan Hong and Linda, cleaning and processing a placenta is a delicate and tedious procedure, which is best left to the experts.

"We have people who try to do it on their own, but end up calling us when things don't turn out right during washing or drying," says Chuan Hong.

"For example, some people try to leave it out to dry in the sun. This affects the integrity of the placenta. You wouldn't even leave a piece of meat out to dry at room temperature, right?"

He says mums who have consumed their placenta strongly recommend it to their relatives and friends as a natural form of postnatal recovery nourishment. It is believed to help prevent postnatal blues and improve complexion.

"Some of our customers who are not first-time mums feel they didn't get the best postpartum nourishment after their earlier births. Since they now have a chance to do it right, they choose to get the natural replenishment that they missed out on previously by getting their placenta encapsulated," he adds.

Medical experts aren't sold on the idea, though. "Personally, I don't advise eating one's placenta because I'm doubtful of its nutritional value, apart from the grossed-out feeling," says Dr Anthony Siow, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) at Parkway Gynaecology Screening and Treatment Centre.

Dr Cordelia Han, an O&G specialist and consultant at Raffles Women's Centre, says there's no scientific evidence to show that consuming it helps with postpartum recovery, although "it is believed to contain growth hormones that maintain youth".

Dr Han adds it's generally safe for mums to consume their own placenta. "But if it belongs to someone else, then I would worry about blood-borne diseases such as HIV, and Hepatitis B and C," she adds.

Aileen admits she isn't exactly sure if she has reaped the benefits of consuming her placentas. However, she adds that she certainly didn't fall prey to postnatal depression during her postpartum period, even without professional confinement help.

One thing's for sure, though - she hasn't experienced any weird side effects in the past four years.

Would she do it again if she were to have another baby?

Sure, she replies without hesitation. "The way I look at it, it's my own meat, my own bacteria. I'm not hurting anyone," she says.

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