Your amazing placenta

Often called the “least understood organ”, your placenta is actually pretty incredible. Bet you didn’t know these 10 interesting facts, says Erin Harrison.

Women’s bodies are amazing. We can grow actually grow an organ to then sustain the life of another human being! But a lot of the time the placenta doesn’t get the credit it deserves, even though it is a critical part of every baby’s journey from embryo to birth. In appreciation of the underrated placenta, here are 10 facts you might not have known about it.

1. It’s a lifeline for your baby

The placenta provides nutrition, oxygen, and fluids, and while both your blood and your baby’s blood pass through the placenta, they don’t actually mix – they flow through separate arteries. If they were to combine, it would be dangerous for the baby, as your body could see it as something to “fight against” and would create antibodies to get rid of the baby’s blood. 

2. It helps your baby fight germs

The placenta also passes anitbodies and immunity through to your baby that can actually last long after birth, helping them to fight against all those pesky germs when they make it out into the world.

3. It serves as lungs and kidneys

When we breathe, we provide oxygen to our organs and tissues, and that’s exactly what we do for our baby through the placenta, as well as filtering out waste (as our kidneys do). 

4. It actually originates from dad

We have to give dads some credit to when it comes to the placenta, as sperm helps to create the blastocyst (which then turns into the placenta and the baby). 

The word “placenta” comes from the latin term for “flat cake”.

5. Babies can give back too, through the placenta

Foetal cells have been found transferred to sites of injury or illness in a pregnant woman, kind of like the baby ensuring mum stays healthy to take them full-term. 

6. It’s full of good things

Placental tissue and cord blood are rich in stem cells which are able to be banked and transferred to treat many genetic disorders including leukaemia, some cancers, and also certain inherited diseases. 

7. It’s edible 

Although it may not really be something you want to see on the menu, placentas can actually be eaten! There are some whi think it can help with raising energy and milk supply, and others who believe that eating the placenta can assist with levelling your hormones and reducing the risk of postnatal depression. 

8. The placenta makes water births possible 

Because your baby is still attached to you (and getting ocygen through the umbilical cord), they can be born into water when you are with an LMC who is experienced in water births. Remember, inside the placenta the baby is in water (amniotic fluid), so until their breathing reflexes are simulated (when the face, nose, and mouth are exposed to air), then they don’t naturally breathe through their mouth. 

9. It triggers milk production

Heard of the afterbirth? That’s the placenta, and it usually comes away within five to 20 minutes of the baby being born and is often known as the third stage of childbirth. When the placenta leaves your body, it triggers your hormones to organise milk production. And while it doesn’t happen straight away (colostrum comes first), your breast milk will typically come through a couple of days later. 

10. It’s surprisingly big

When your baby is born, the average placenta is about the size and shape of a side plate, and weighs about half a kilo. It’s usually 2 to 2.5cm thick, and is smooth on the inside where the baby grows, and the exterior is rough where it is attached to the womb. 

Placenta practices

Despite it being more common to cut the umbilical cord to the placenta as soon as the baby is born, some decide to delay cord clamping, for a variety of reasons. This is a choice any woman can make, but it is best done in consulation with your LMC. 

Given the term “lotus birth”, some mothers actually choose to leave their baby attached to the placenta until the umbilical cord falls of naturally (usually between three to 10 days after birth). Again it is important to speak to a medical professional before deciding on following this practice. 

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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