The placenta is an organ in the mother’s uterus that is responsible for providing necessary nutrition to the growing baby. It also helps in exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide gas, supporting the baby’s respiration. In a nutshell, it is the life support for the fetus.
After the baby is born, the placenta follows out of the mother’s body in a process called after-birth—the placenta along with fluids and other membranes are washed out of the uterus.
Let us see how placenta really does its job of keeping the baby alive and healthy.
What Does The Placenta Do
Placenta Provides Nutrition To The Baby
All the nutrition from the mother’s blood gets filtered through the placenta before reaching the baby. As this blood containing glucose, oxygen and other nutritional substances passes through the placenta, the harmful substances get sieved out, whereas the essentials are passed to the baby via the umbilical cord.
Placenta Acts As Your Baby’s Lung
The essential oxygen is provided to the baby from mother’s blood—the transfer of the vital gas happens just like in an adult’s or newborn’s lungs. The carbon dioxide that the baby’s releases are passed from the same blood back into the placenta—from there the waste moves to the mother’s circulation and gets removed from her urine. The placenta acts as a separator between the mother’s and baby’s blood to prevent spreading of infections.
Placenta Produces Hormones
The organ, which is 1/6th of the weight of your baby still does a lot more work than you thought. It produces a number of hormones—the most important one being human placental lactogen, which produces more than any other hormone. These hormones trigger more production of glucose in the mother’s blood to be passed onto the baby for their growth.
Placenta also produces female hormones estrogen and progesterone in high quantities. These biological chemicals prevent the uterus from contracting until the pregnancy has reached its term. The same hormones also prepare the uterus for labor and childbirth. They also play their part in the changes observed in a mother’s body during pregnancy. These crucial chemicals released by placenta also decide the timing for the labor to begin.
The Placenta Also Moves
The placenta is present in the lower part of the womb during the early pregnancy. However, as the uterus expands with the gestation age, it moves to the upper part or the top of the womb to create some space for the cervix to be open at the time of delivery. After delivery, in the third stage of labor, the placenta comes out naturally within 15-30 minutes. Sometimes, it is expelled out using oxytocin injections and traction of the cord to pull out the organ.
Factors Affecting Health Of The Placenta
The organ plays a significant role in pregnancy, but, many factors can affect the health of placenta—many of which can be avoided.
- Blood-clotting disorder in the mother affects the functionality of the placenta.
- The efficiency of placenta gets affected by the maternal age, especially for moms above 40.1
- Multiple pregnancies, where twins share the same placenta have a higher risk than babies who have their own placentas to provide nutrition.
- Abdominal trauma, for instance, an injury through a fall can cause damage to the placenta.
- There are risks of placental issues resurfacing in subsequent pregnancies if already occurred before.
- Use of drugs during pregnancy can also have negative effects on the placenta.
- Breaking of water before time or premature rupture of the amniotic membrane can also affect the health of placenta.
- High blood pressure is another condition that can create stress on the placenta and hinder the flow of nutrients to the baby through the organ.
There are some complications associated with the placenta. However, close monitoring and medical assistance can help deal with these problems.
- Placental abruption: An underdeveloped placenta
- Placenta accreta and Placenta praevia: Placenta planted at a wrong location inside the uterus
- Placental insufficiency: Placenta working insufficiently
Interesting Facts About Placenta
- Each minute, the placenta exchanges the vital gases, nutrients, and waste from a pint (568.26 milliliters) of blood that comes to the uterus.
- The placenta is more like a gland because one of its vital functions is to release hormones.
- Your placenta acts as multiple organs for your baby—as lungs for the exchange of gases, as kidneys to filter the waste, as the immune system to defend the baby against infections and as a source nutrition.
- Both your and your baby’s blood pass through the placenta, but never get mixed.
- The placenta doesn’t have nerve cells and is not in direct control of brain or spinal cord.
- The placenta is known to provide many benefits to moms who consume their placentas—for instance, balanced hormonal levels, better milk supply, reduced bleeding after birth and replenishment of iron in the body.
|↑1||Miller, David A. “Is advanced maternal age an independent risk factor for uteroplacental insufficiency?.” American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 192, no. 6 (2005): 1974-1980.Harvard|