When I was pregnant with my first child, so much focus was put on the baby. Every question revolved around my daughter. How big was she? How was she growing? What percentile was she in? When was her due date? During my third trimester, while surfing a random Facebook page, I finally read about the placenta. Sure, I heard mention of its location in my uterus in my 20-week scan. But nothing made me sit up and listen or investigate further. Once I heard more about the impact placentas were having on other women’s pregnancies and upcoming births, I was curious and wanted to learn more.
Truth be told, my curiosity only got me so far as a quick Google search before I got bored and moved on. But something in me remembered to ask to see it after the birth of my daughter. My OBGYN, the lovely, supportive provider she was, had no hesitations in holding it up by the membranes and showing it to me. Smiling, she told me what a healthy placenta I had. Almost pleased or proud of the fact that I grew it perfectly all by myself. I loved that moment. I loved seeing the home where my darling daughter spent almost 42 weeks. But that was it. Two minutes later, it disappeared, and all focus was back on the baby.
Fast forward ten years, and I am now a mother to three beautiful children. In a wild and wonderful twist of events, placentas are all I think about and talk about! I’ve built an entire business based on placentas alone. And I couldn’t love it more! But I know many moms or moms-to-be don’t fully understand what the placenta is or what it does. So I’m here to share all I know!
What is a placenta?
The placenta is an organ within the uterus. Its job is to provide the baby with everything it needs to grow and thrive until the baby’s birth. The placenta has three structures: membranes, an umbilical cord, and the main part, the placenta itself.
What exactly does it do?
The placenta is a facilitator organ. It is not, as many believe, a filter organ. Its purpose is to facilitate the baby’s growth, supplying oxygenated blood and vital nutrients to the baby. Once the placenta serves its purpose, and the baby has acclimated to its new environment, breathing by themselves, etc., the body expels it after the birth. It is the only organ that we grow, use for a few months, and essentially discard (assuming it is not kept for personal consumption or usage).
All You Need to Know About the Placenta
From roughly the end of the first trimester, the placenta is formed and ready to nourish and support the baby’s life in the womb. What is known as the “maternal side” is attached to the uterus, leaving the baby with the “fetal side” to cuddle up to and play with for their time together. One of the placenta’s main jobs is to make sure the maternal blood and the fetal blood never mixes, thanks to the placental membrane.
This essential organ can attach to any part of the uterus and grows and moves in conjunction with the growing uterus. Some mothers may notice they don’t feel their baby kick as soon as other pregnant colleagues or friends if they have an anterior placenta. This is where the placenta attaches to the front of the uterus. Kicks will become more frequently felt from 20-ish weeks in pregnancy when a mother has an anterior placenta.
Sometimes, however, the placenta may attach quite low, causing concern early on in pregnancy. It is important to note that a low-lying placenta and placenta previa are two very different things. A low-lying placenta is attached close to the opening of the uterus. Often this corrects itself as the uterus grows and expands upwards, along with it, moves the placenta. A placenta that completely covers the uterus’s opening, resulting in the need for a surgical birth, is called placenta previa. This condition is quite rare, with fewer than 200,000 cases in the USA every year.
The Umbilical Cord
While it’s anyone’s guess where the placenta will attach itself to the uterus, the same can be said for the umbilical cord insertion in the placenta. There are many varieties of cord insertions. The vast majority of insertions are central and eccentric insertion, however.
This amazingly long and strong cord connects the baby and the placenta. The umbilical cord houses three blood vessels. One is a vein that brings oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood from the placenta to the baby. Two are arteries that bring waste from the baby back to the placenta for the mother to excrete. The three vessels are vital and are protected from being squashed or compressed by a substance called Wharton’s jelly. Many scans show the baby playing with the umbilical cord, wrapping their little hands around it, etc.
Attached to the organ are two very strong membranes, the amnion and the chorion. Within these membranes, you will find the baby, the umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid. These membranes, like the placenta, will grow throughout the pregnancy. Once the time for birth comes, there will be a tear in the membranes, and amniotic fluids will leak. Approximately 1 in 80,000 babies will be born en caul, which means the membranes will be fully intact at birth.
The placenta is an amazingly complex organ that, luckily today, is more known about and understood in the mainstream world. More mothers are openly curious, and more and more providers are offering “placenta tours” bedside after the birth. Many cultures refer to the placenta as the baby’s first friend, as throughout the pregnancy, the baby has come to know and love this amazing organ as it should! The next time you give birth, perhaps ask your provider to give you a wee tour of your placenta. It’s actually really amazing!