For Jennifer Mayer, afterbirth is serious business.
She’s the founder of Brooklyn Placenta Services, a one-woman venture launched in 2010 that provides new moms with an unusual kind of post-partum supplement — one made from their own placentas, which are rich in iron and believed to boost energy and lessen postpartum depression.
The services are a sideline to another, bigger business Mayer runs: Baby Caravan, which connects pregnant women with a network of 30 doulas, or trained childbirth coaches. But Mayer keeps the two businesses entirely separate and doesn’t advertise her placenta services at all. “Moms tell other moms about it, or girlfriends tell other girlfriends when they’re pregnant. It’s really organic in that way,” she says. “I don’t want to have to convince anyone.”
The official term for consuming placenta is “placentophagy,” a controversial practice with unproven health benefits that is becoming increasingly common, thanks to the endorsements of small-time bloggers and celebrity moms like Kim Kardashian and January Jones.
Providers of placenta products are overwhelmingly small businesses like Brooklyn Placenta Services, most of which appear to be run by women. They are turning placentas into powders, pills, smoothies and more, and are cropping up all over the U.S. and beyond.
Placentas aren’t the only bodily materials that women entrepreneurs are transforming into products for new moms. Jewelry made from breast milk, decorative pieces made from umbilical cords and more are also reaching a large and lucrative mommy marketplace. While mommy-care spending is hard to pin down, baby related spending has been marching steadily upward. Annual revenues for the global baby-care market rose to $10.3 billion in 2016 from $8.94 billion in 2013 — and is projected to hit $13.3 billion in 2021, according to Statista, a consumer research database.
As these eccentric products and services become increasingly common, the public reaction has ranged from curiosity and skepticism to tongue-in-cheek banter to outright mockery. But Mayer is unconcerned by those who scoff. “Some are fascinated. But for some people, it makes their stomachs turn,” she says. “That’s fine. People find their own way.”
The Making of Placenta Pills
The process of preparing placentas for consumption is, forgive the term, relatively cut-and-dry.
Ahead of the birth, Mayer coordinates with the mother-to-be on placenta pick-up from the hospital. Then she transports the placenta to her Brooklyn home in a cooler — in much the same way medical workers transport hearts and other organs for transplant. There, she steams, dehydrates and grinds it into a powder, which she puts into vegetarian gelatin capsules that new moms can take daily.
In addition to the pills, Mayer offers women the option of a tincture, a solution made by dissolving part of the placenta in alcohol. Regardless of which method they choose, moms who are pro-placentophagy say consuming their placentas helped them feel more energized and less depressed during those first post-delivery weeks. “When moms around the world have a similar experience, it’s pretty compelling,” Mayer says.
However, there is little medical research to back up these claims. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that consuming placenta after birth does not provide the sort of boost in iron that would contribute to some of the reported benefits. Placenta processing after birth is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so there are few consumer protections.
Mayer says she is up-front with her clients about all of this, and careful not to make any claims about health benefits. And at the bottom of every page of her website is a disclaimer warning that “information on this page has not been evaluated by the FDA,” that her business makes no “medical treatment claims,” and that customers are solely responsible “for their own health and capsule usage.”
Nevertheless, she typically works with between 15 to 20 clients per month, making pills, tonics and more. Each mother pays between $350 and $400 for pills, depending on the package they select.
Nurturing Women Before and After Birth
Mayer was studying women and gender issues at the University of Colorado and dabbling in doula work when she first learned about placenta consumption in 2006. “The more research I did, and the more I learned about the anecdotal benefits moms were reporting, the more I thought it was an incredible resource not being utilized,” she says.
After earning her degree in 2009, and completing a placenta preparation training course the following year, the New York native moved back to the East Coast and launched Brooklyn Placenta Services in 2010, even as she made a name for herself as a private doula.
A self-funded operation, her placenta business started small, grew slowly and remains small — on purpose, Mayer says, since she “can only process so many placentas” on her own. For now, she isn’t keen to hire people to handle placentas and do the careful work of processing them, preferring to provide the services herself.
Mayer’s growth business is Baby Caravan, which she launched in 2013. Its network of doulas, together, coach hundreds of New York City families through the birth process each year. She declined to disclose annual revenue figures, but Mayer says Baby Caravan has experienced thirteenfold growth in 2016 when it significantly expanded the number of doulas in its network.
Going forward, she aims to grow Baby Caravan by adding consultation services to help companies and employers better care for moms and dads before, during and after their parental leaves. She has also brought on a marketing person to help spread the word.
Mayer plans on keeping Brooklyn Placenta Services small, but she has been making a name for herself in the placenta business. She has been featured in New York Magazine, the New York Daily News, Vogue and other publications extolling the virtues of placentophagy. Regardless of the naysayers, “We’ve got a lot of bookings this summer,” she says.