An amazing fact about being a mother is that your body is not only thriving a new life inside of you, but a completely new organ is also crated called the placenta. This new organ provides almost anything your baby needs to grow and develop. It is transmitted through the placenta. In this part, learn what is a placenta and how it works.
What is the Placenta?
The placenta is a new organ of the pregnant mother's body, which is formed only during pregnancy. It is formed in the inner wall of the uterus or endometrium, and it leaves the uterus after delivery. In fact, the placenta is responsible for maintaining, supporting, and facilitating the growth of the fetus. As a pancake-shaped organ, placenta attaches to the uterine wall and is connected to the fetus through the umbilical cord. At the end of pregnancy, its diameter reaches about 8.22 cm and its thickness in the center reaches about 2.5 cm.
This highly functional organ connects the mother and the fetus. The placenta delivers nutrients and oxygen to the fetus through the umbilical cord. It also removes waste materials from the fetus.
Before the 20th week of pregnancy, the placenta weighs more than the fetus. It does the work of most of the organs of the fetus that are not yet developed enough. Especially in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when harmful chemicals, viruses, and toxins can disrupt the growth process of the fetal body organs.
What you breathe in, the chemicals you're exposed to, and the cucumber and cheese sandwich you just ate will be transferred to your fetus through this miraculous organ.
The placenta has an important task, which is to maintain and support the fetus. In general, the placenta does its job well, especially when faced with the usual challenges of pregnancy such as infections and natural toxins.
What does a Placenta do?
It transports oxygen and nutrients including glucose, vitamins, and water from mother’s body to the baby's. In addition, it processes waste products produced by it. It also produces hormones needed for the growth of the fetus.
The placenta also makes it possible for antibodies to be transferred from mother’s bloodstream to the fetus. These antibodies help protect your baby against some viral diseases and bacterial infections such as measles and diphtheria till he/she is born and grown enough to receive his/her first vaccinations.
When is the Placenta Formed?
The fetal placenta begins to form 6 days after the eggs are fertilized. At this stage, your baby-to-be is nothing but a hollow ball of hundreds of cells (blastocyst). The blastocyst is attached to the inner linings of the uterine wall, usually near its upper part. This process is called implantation and is completed by the 9th or 10th day of pregnancy.
The blastocyst wall thickness is just one cell and in a special are, it is 3 to 4 cells thick. The inner cells in the thicker area become the embryo, and the outer ones burrow into uterine membrane and become the placenta.
Placenta produces a host of hormones which help maintaining the pregnancy. One of the most important hormones is human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. This hormone stops the ovaries from sending out more eggs. In addition, it stimulates them to continuously produce progesterone and estrogen. Various at-home pregnancy tests also measure the amount of hCG in mother’s urine to determine pregnancy.
During 18 to 20 weeks, placenta is formed at its fullest but it does not stop growing during later stages of pregnancy. At birth, its weight is about 450 grams.
How does the Placenta Work?
Thousands of so-called microscopic “fingers” of tissue (called chorionic villi) connects the placenta to the umbilical cord. These tissues contain a matrix of blood vessels. The villi formation happens in the sixth week of pregnancy. At 12 weeks, the mother’s blood fills the gaps around the villi. When mother’s blood comes into contact with villi, nutrients and minerals are traded for waste products through the walls of the villi.
Filtering certain viruses and bacteria from reaching the fetus is another role of the villi. At the same time, it allows molecules from whatever you digest, in addition to gases and antibodies to pass and reach the fetus.
What Harmful Substances pass through the Placenta?
Along with all the good things that are passed on to your baby, some bad things can also reach the placenta. These include alcohol, nicotine, drugs, and some medications.
There is no set safe level for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and experts recommend that you avoid drinking any amount during pregnancy. The same rule applies to smoking and drug use. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription supplements or medications you need or want to take.
Although the fetal placenta acts as a barrier against most bacteria, some viruses, and small bacteria can pass through it. Many of them do not affect the fetus, but others can be harmful to the developing fetus.
What happens to the Placenta During Childbirth?
A few minutes after the birth of the baby, the placenta is separated from the wall of your uterus and expelled through the vagina. You will have a few contractions, but this stage of labor usually only lasts about five to 10 minutes. It is more like menstrual pain. In the case of an emergency c section, the doctor manually removes the fetal placenta from the uterus.
What can you do for the Placenta before Pregnancy?
Get the necessary vaccines according to your doctor's opinion. Some viruses can pass through the placenta to the fetus. For example, exposure to rubella during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects in the fetus. That's why it's important to make sure all your vaccines are up-to-date before you get pregnant.
What can you do for the Placenta and Fetus during Pregnancy?
There are things you can do to support having a healthy placenta, a healthy baby, and a healthy body.
- Get prenatal checkups. Go to all prenatal checkups and work with your doctor and midwife to rule out any conditions. Complications such as high blood pressure can cause problems for the placenta.
- Do not take any medication without your doctor's prescription. Be careful when taking over-the-counter and prescription medications during pregnancy, as most of them can pass the placenta. However, there are several safe medications for the fetus, few of them are considered to cause birth defect. In addition, for many medications, there is not enough information and research to know how they affect the unborn baby. A good doctor can help you understand how safe and beneficial a particular medication is to your health.
- Get the necessary vaccinations. Get the recommended vaccinations during pregnancy, such as the flu vaccine and tetanus and diphtheria vaccine as ordered by your doctor.
- Do not smoke and do not abuse drugs. Placental problems, such as premature placental abruption, are considered more common among pregnant women who smoke or abuse drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
- Be cautious about C-sections. If you do not have a medical reason to have a C-section, talk to your doctor about the risks and life threatening dangers before choosing to have one. Any C-section increases your risk of serious secondary complications, including placenta previa and placental abruption, in future pregnancies.
What is Placenta Previa?
Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta is placed abnormally in the lower part of the uterus and causes complete or partial blockage of the cervix. Symptoms of placenta previa are not diagnosed in person and a sonography test is needed to locate it. Placenta previa can sometimes cause some bleeding from the vagina.
Giving a new life to this world is a wonderful thing. In this way, every woman will have a unique journey and different experiences. From the moment the child is conceived until the time he/she enters this world, the mother must take care of his/her health. If you are already on this path, do your best to take care of yourself and discuss any problems or challenges with your doctor. Now that you know what’s a placenta, there is no need to worry about it.