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What is the Placenta and What Does it Do?

The placenta is an amazingly complex organ that is more known about and understood in the mainstream world. It is located within the uterus. Its function is to provide the baby with everything it needs to grow and thrive until birth, such as providing nutrients and oxygenated blood, and it removes waste products from your baby’s blood. The placenta has three structures; membranes, an umbilical cord and then the placenta itself. Once the placenta has served its purpose during pregnancy and the baby is born and acclimated to its new environment, the placenta is expelled after birth.

From roughly the end of the first trimester, the placenta is formed and ready to nourish and support the baby’s life in the womb. What is known as the “maternal side” is attached to the uterus, leaving the baby with the “fetal side” to cuddle up to and play with for their time together. One of the placenta’s main jobs is to make sure the maternal blood and the fetal blood never mixes, thanks to the placental membrane.

This essential organ can attach to any part of the uterus and grows and moves in conjunction with the growing uterus. Some mothers may notice they don’t feel their baby kick as soon as other pregnant colleagues or friends if they have an anterior placenta. This is where the placenta attaches to the front of the uterus. Kicks will become more frequently felt from around 20 weeks in pregnancy when a mother has an anterior placenta.

Sometimes the placenta may attach quite low, which can cause concern early on in pregnancy. It is important to note that a low-lying placenta and placenta previa are two very different things. A low-lying placenta is attached close to the opening of the uterus. Often this corrects itself as the uterus grows and expands upwards, along with it, moving the placenta. A placenta that completely covers the uterus’s opening, resulting in the need for a surgical birth, is called placenta previa.

The umbilical cord is the part that attaches the placenta to the baby. The umbilical cord inserts itself into the placenta, and the common types of cord insertions 1) central insertion and 2) eccentric insertion. It is made up of three blood vessels, each with a different function, such as bringing oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to the baby and bringing waste back to the mother to excrete.

Attached to the organ are two very strong membranes, the amnion and the chorion. Within these membranes, you will find the baby, the umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid. These membranes, like the placenta, will grow throughout the pregnancy. Once the time for birth comes, there will be a tear in the membranes, and amniotic fluids will leak.