What is the placenta?
The word ‘placenta’ comes from the Latin word cake, or disc shaped. Some refer to the placenta as the baby’s first birthday cake. The placenta is formed from the same sperm and egg cells that form the baby and has two functions, maternal and fetal. The placenta is a disposable organ attached to the inside of your womb during pregnancy. This incredible organ is actually the only disposable organ that the human body creates and then naturally discards once its purpose is fulfilled. When the blastocyst (tiny form of cells that become baby) implant on the uterine wall, placenta development begins. The outer layer of the blastocyst becomes the trophoblast which forms the amniotic sac. It wraps around the cluster of cells protecting the developing baby. The placenta acts as a comforting womb mate to your baby.
The placenta interacts with the baby through the umbilical cord which has two arteries and 1 vein. The placenta acts as a barrier, never allowing your blood and baby’s blood to come into contact with one another. Maternal blood flow into the placenta is approximately 600-700 ml/min at full term or 40 weeks gestation. This can vary depending on the uterus condition, scar tissues and placental growth and health. Maternal blood supply carries oxygen, nutrients’ and food to the unborn baby via the umbilical cord inserted into the placenta on the fetal side.
The baby’s waste products, such as carbon dioxide is absorbed into the umbilical and passed through the placenta into the maternal bloodstream for the mother to dispose of. The placenta is not a waste organ however, it is a facilitator organ. It is constantly renewing the blood circulating through allowing for a clean transfer. The placenta acts as a protective filter, keeping out almost all bacteria. It cannot however, keep out viruses. It does not protect against nicotine, drugs, or alcohol, which is why it is so important to remain healthy during pregnancy. Some drugs are contraindicated for placenta preparation such as heroin, cocaine, methadone and heavy smoking. The placenta also passes on maternal antibodies to the baby to help keep baby healthy for several months after birth. If the mother has acquired natural immunity to virus or disease, the antibodies that her body has created against those illnesses can be transferred to the baby via the placenta.
The placenta produces hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, necessary to sustain pregnancy and healthy fetal development. Producing high levels of progesterone prevents intrauterine shedding and contracting, allowing the pregnancy to last until the baby is fully formed and healthy. Low levels of progesterone can cause preterm labor.