What is a Placenta?

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What if I told you that while you when you became pregnant your body developed an organ that you were not born with and would only exist in your body until you gave birth? Your body is a wonderland of miracles and even more so when you are pregnant! During pregnancy your body makes a temporary organ called the placenta. What is a placenta? The placenta is responsible for the growth of your baby while in utero and plays a vital role after your baby is born.

Your Placenta: The Tree of Life
The placenta has been called “The Tree of Life” for its resemblance to an actual tree and it’s literally a giver of life to your baby.

The placenta:

  • Delivers nutrients to your baby
  • Eliminates waste product from your womb
  • Produces pregnancy supporting hormones
  • Delivers oxygen to your baby and removes carbon dioxide
  • Regulates the temperature in your womb
  • Saves your baby from infections by acting like a filter separating the blood of your from your baby.

What can affect the function of the placenta during pregnancy:

  • A fall or any other type of blow to the abdomen
  • Issues with blood clotting
  • Conceiving after the age of 40
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Surgery in the uterus
  • Membrane rupture
  • High blood pressure

The placenta is attached to your uterus and then branches into an umbilical cord which is attached to your baby. The umbilical cord – which is comprised of two small arteries and a large vein – accomplishes all these life sustaining tasks via your bloodstream.  As a caution, please know that the placenta will deliver ALL substances you induce in your body directly to your baby including drugs, nicotine and alcohol. This just stresses the importance of eating and staying healthy not just for yourself but for the beautiful life you have growing within you.

What Happens After You Deliver the Placenta?

After you give birth, the placenta is expelled by your body usually within 30 minutes after delivery. In our part of the world, doctors typically discard the placenta. Other cultures have revered the placenta for centuries and keep it after the birth. Some bury it in the ground believing it to have spiritual significance while others eat it believing it to have healing and restorative properties.

Eating Your Placenta

This practice is called human placentophagy and is becoming popular in the Western culture. You can now have the placenta freeze dried then put inside capsules that you swallow the way you would normally take oral medicines or vitamins.

Improved Mood?

There was a very small study done that showed that eating the freeze dried placenta would increase lactation among other things.  While it has never been scientifically proven, women that have eaten the placenta reported that:

  • Their mood was improved
  • They felt “balanced”
  • They noticed improved lactation while they were breastfeeding

Some celebrities such as January Jones and Alicia Silverstone have even jumped on the placenta eating band wagon!  This does not go without controversy however as some see eating the placenta as a form of cannibalism.

Common Placental Problems

  • Placental abruption (abruptio placentae). If the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — either partially or completely — it is a placental abruption. Most noteworthy, it might deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients. Early delivery may be needed in some cases.
  • Placenta previa. When the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix, this is called placenta previa. Placenta previa is more common early in pregnancy and might resolve as the uterus grows. A C-section delivery might be required if the placenta previa is present at the time of delivery.
  • Placenta accreta. This condition occurs when the blood vessels of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. Placenta accreta causes vaginal bleeding during the third trimester of pregnancy and severe blood loss after delivery. Treatment might require a C-section delivery followed by surgical removal of the uterus (abdominal hysterectomy).
  • Retained placenta. This happens if the placenta isn’t out of the body within 30 to 60 minutes after childbirth. A retained placenta as a result can cause severe infection or life-threatening blood loss in the mother.

Delivering The Placenta
If you deliver your baby vaginally you will naturally deliver the placenta the same way — known as the third stage of labor. After you give birth, you’ll continue to have mild contractions. Your doula, midwife, husband etc..  can massage your belly to encourage your uterus to contract and expel the placenta. The placenta usually comes out with some blood from five minutes to 30 minutes after giving birth.

Your placenta needs to be intact. Any remaining fragments are removed from the uterus to prevent bleeding and infection.

Cord Blood
Within the placenta and the attached umbilical cord is lifesaving gold – cord blood! The blood contained therein contains stem cells that are used to treat genetic and hematopoietic disorders. The best news is that this does not involving ingesting anything!

To learn more about cord blood banking please click here