Last Updated on August 28, 2023
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What is the placenta?
The placenta is crucial to keeping your baby alive and well during pregnancy. It is an organ attached to the lining of the womb that delivers oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby.
About the placenta
The placenta is a large organ that develops during pregnancy. It is attached to the wall of the uterus, usually at the top or side. The umbilical cord connects the placenta to your baby.
Blood from the mother passes through the placenta, filtering oxygen, glucose and other nutrients to your baby via the umbilical cord. The placenta also filters out substances that could be harmful to your baby and removes carbon dioxide and waste products from your baby’s blood.
The placenta produces a number of hormones that are needed during pregnancy, such as lactogen, oestrogen and progesterone. It keeps the mother’s blood separate from the baby’s blood to protect the baby against infections. Towards the end of the pregnancy, the placenta passes on antibodies to protect the baby after birth.
What happens to the placenta during pregnancy?
The placenta often develops low in the womb but moves to the side or up as the womb stretches. The position of the placenta will be checked at your 18-week ultrasound.
The placenta is expelled from your body after the birth, usually about 5 to 30 minutes after your baby is born. This is called the third stage of labour.
After the baby is born you will continue to have mild contractions. You will have to give one more push to deliver the placenta. Sometimes your abdomen will be massaged or you will be given an injection of oxytocin and the umbilical cord will be gently pulled to help deliver the placenta.
If you have a caesarean section, the doctor will remove the placenta at the same time.
It is important that the whole placenta comes out after pregnancy. If any fragments of the placenta stay inside, they will have to be surgically removed to prevent bleeding and infection.
How to keep your placenta healthy
It is important to visit your healthcare provider regularly during pregnancy to check for any problems with your placenta.
Tell your doctor if you have had problems with the placenta in a previous pregnancy, or if you have had any surgery to your womb.
Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take illegal drugs during pregnancy because this increases the likelihood you will have problems with the placenta. Always consult your doctor before you take any medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, natural therapies and supplements, while you are pregnant.
Speak with your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns, or if you experience:
- severe abdominal or back pain
- vaginal bleeding
- any trauma to your abdomen, for example from a fall or car accident
Problems with the placenta can potentially be dangerous for both mother and baby:
- Placenta accreta: When the placenta grows too deeply into the wall of the uterus. This can lead to massive blood loss during or after delivery and can be life-threatening.
- Placental abruption: When the placenta peels away from the wall of the womb before delivery. This can cause bleeding and will mean your baby may not be getting all the nutrients they need. In some cases, an early delivery may be needed.
- Placenta praevia: When the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix, the opening through which the baby will come out. This condition is more common early in pregnancy and often resolves as the placenta moves higher in the uterus as the uterus grows. If the placenta is still covering the cervix close to the time of delivery, a caesarean section will be necessary.
- Placental insufficiency: When the placenta doesn’t work properly during pregnancy, depriving the baby of oxygen and nutrients. This can affect the growth of the baby.
- Retained placenta: The placenta may not come out after the birth because it is blocked by the cervix or it is still attached to the uterus. This can cause severe infection or blood loss, and can be life-threatening.
Options for the placenta after the birth
In some cultures, families bury the placenta in a special place.
There is also a rare practice, known as placentophagy, in which women cook and eat the placenta. Some commercial service providers will offer to turn your placenta into capsules for you to swallow.
However, these practices should be treated with caution since there is no regulation in Australia either of these products or the providers of placenta pills.
Recent research shows there are no known health benefits from eating the placenta, but there may be a risk of infection from poor production standards.
Though not nearly as exciting as your newborn baby, your placenta is a pretty spectacular thing. The organ provides nourishment and oxygen to your growing child for 40 weeks. Placentas were once routinely disposed of by hospitals, but nowadays more parents are keeping the placenta after birth—perhaps with good reason. Here are eight creative things you can do with it.
1. Eat the Placenta
A practice known as placentophagy, some women choose eating the placenta after birth. They usually either encapsulate it into pill form or add it to smoothies. And it’s becoming more popular, with celebrities like Hilary Duff, Kourtney Kardashian, and January Jones eating or taking placenta pills after birth.
While there isn’t scientific proof that consuming your placenta has any health benefits, “Many moms report feeling a boost of energy after consuming their placenta, while others feel it helps them keep an ‘even keel’ through the postpartum hormonal ups and downs,” says Jennifer Mayer, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and owner of Brooklyn Placenta Services. “Others feel it helps with breast milk production.”
Keep in mind, however, that there are risks involved with eating your placenta. Mainly, it could be contaminated or spread illness. A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also says a healthy baby developed B Streptococcus agalactiae bacteremia (group B strep) linked to his mother’s consumption of her placenta.
- RELATED: The Risks of Eating the Placenta
Donate the Placenta
Parents can choose to donate the placenta. The nutrient-dense tissue can help with reconstructive procedures, the healing of wounds and burns, ocular procedures, spinal surgeries, and other medical needs. Placenta donation must be done through an accredited tissue bank; you’ll need to get specific authorization, although the process won’t harm your child in any way. If donation is your plan, tell your healthcare provider in advance. Note that parents can donate other birth tissue as well, including umbilical cord tissue, the amniotic membrane, and amniotic fluid. Find out more information at Donate Life America.
Use a Placenta Salve
If you simply can’t stomach the idea of guzzling your placenta down with some frozen strawberries in a smoothie, many encapsulators also offer the option of a body salve. This purportedly may help with C-section scars, perineal tears, and cracked nipples.
Whether you go with a delicate pendant, beaded bracelet, or tiny drop earrings, having your placenta made into jewelry will make for a beautiful and constant reminder of your pregnancy—and, of course, one heck of a conversation piece.
- RELATED: Should You Encapsulate Your Placenta?
Don’t have the desire to swallow your placenta via pills, smoothies, or other consumable ways, but feel it’s too sacred to dispose of at the hospital? One potential solution: Planting the placenta after birth. This symbolizes a baby’s link to the earth in certain cultures, but some modern parents like the idea of planting their placenta alongside a tree in their yard that will grow with their baby. It’s a sweet visual reminder of how Mom and Baby were once physically connected to one another!
DIY a Placenta Shirt
Get your creative juices flowing—so to speak—by inking a onesie or toddler T-shirt with your placenta blood. (Note: Best done before your child is old enough to tell you she doesn’t want to wear a placenta-stained shirt.)
Crafty mamas can also try making placenta prints to frame and hang in the home. Consider going with the popular Tree of Life design to honor the beginning of your baby’s life.
Buy a Placenta Photo Frame
Forget the $5 frame from Target; display your baby’s first photo in a picture frame made of your placenta. Sure, it’s a little meta, but when you think about it, why wouldn’t you have such a precious and meaningful photo placed inside an equally precious and meaningful frame?