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What does the placenta do?

What does the placenta do?

Jul 06, 2023


Dr. Jacqueline Darna

Have ever wondered how your growing baby gets oxygen and nutrients while still in the womb? The job is done by the placenta. The placenta is often referred to as the baby's lifeline because it performs several critical functions that are vital to the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby. Read on to learn more about the placenta, what it does, and common placental problems that may affect you and your growing baby. 
A doctor holding a placenta. The placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy. It serves as a vital link between the mother and the developing fetus. The placenta provides oxygen, nutrients, and removes waste products from the baby's blood, ensuring its growth and development. It also produces hormones that support pregnancy and helps protect the fetus from harmful substances. The doctor's gesture highlights the significance of the placenta in maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

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What is the placenta?

The placenta is a temporary organ that develops during pregnancy. It is a disc-shaped structure that attaches to the lining of the uterus and connects to the baby via the umbilical cord. The placenta is made up of both maternal and fetal tissues and acts as a barrier between the mother and the baby.

After your egg meets an awaiting sperm in your fallopian tubes it migrates to your womb where it temporarily attaches to the wall of the uterus. Formation of the placenta usually starts as early as 7 weeks after conception. The growth of the placenta continues to occur throughout the period you are pregnant.

Therefore, the placenta is a vital organ that connects your baby usually to the top or side of the inner wall of your womb during pregnancy.

A cord-like structure called the umbilical cord connects the placenta to your baby during pregnancy.

What does the placenta look like?

The placenta consists of highly vascular tissues. For this reason, the blood vessel-rich placental tissues appear bumpy and dark red.

Since the placenta connects your baby to your womb it is divided into the maternal side and fetal part. Usually, the maternal side is reddish-blue whereas the side close to your baby appears gray.

How much does the placenta weigh? Pregnancy Pukeology Podcaster Doctor explains how much does each component weigh during delivery. Pregnant woman holding a scale and to learn more visit

How big is a placenta?

The placenta grows from a tiny mass of cells early in the placenta to as big as 1 pound weight by the time you are having your baby. In addition, your placenta measures about 10 inches long, and its thickness is about 1 inch at the center.

How much does the placenta weigh?

The placenta is about 1.5 pounds or 0.7 kilograms at delivery. Remember the placenta is delivered in what’s called the after birth.

1. Baby: 7.5 pounds
Most full term babies weigh about 6 to 9 pounds at birth.

2. Placenta: 1.5 pounds
The placenta brings nutrients, oxygen and hormones to the baby and takes away waste products.

3. Uterus: 2 pounds
Your uterus grows a lot to make room for your baby. Before you became pregnant, your uterus was about 3.5 inches long and weighed only 1/6 of a pound.

What is a normal pregnancy weight gain? Pregnant woman holding a scale while doctor explains the pregnancy weight gain calculator breakdown at delivery

4. Amniotic Fluid: 2 pounds
Your baby is surrounded by the most amniotic fluid at around 34 weeks of pregnancy. By the time baby is full term, there is less of this clear, yellowish liquid.

5. Breast Tissue: 2 pounds
Your breasts are growing as they prepare for breastfeeding.

6. Blood: 4 pounds
The amount of blood in your body almost doubles while you are pregnant.

7. Body Fluids: 4 pounds
This is the “water weight” that people talk about. If you’ve had swelling in your feet and ankles, you understand.

8. Maternal Fat Stores: 7 pounds
When you’re pregnant, those extra pounds provide the energy that powers breastfeeding. Your body needs that extra energy to make the milk to feed your baby.

What does the placenta do? Pregnancy doctor from explains 5 functions for the babies growth during pregnancy

What does the placenta do?

The placenta performs several essential functions during pregnancy, including:

  1. Nutrient and oxygen exchange: The placenta acts as a filter, allowing nutrients and oxygen to pass from the mother's blood to the baby's blood. These nutrients and oxygen are vital for the baby's growth and development.
  2. Waste elimination: The placenta also acts as a filter to remove waste products, such as carbon dioxide, from the baby's blood and transfer them to the mother's blood. The mother's body then eliminates these waste products.
  3. Hormone production: The placenta produces several hormones, including human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), estrogen, and progesterone. These hormones play a crucial role in maintaining the pregnancy, regulating fetal growth and development, and preparing the mother's body for labor and delivery.

In addition, the placenta takes over the role of producing hormones that help in maintaining pregnancy from the 12 weeks of pregnancy. Hormones such as progesterone and progesterone are produced by the placenta to suppress prolactin hormone thus suppressing milk production while pregnant.

  1. Immune protection: The placenta acts as a barrier between the mother's immune system and the baby. It protects the baby from harmful substances and infections that may be present in the mother's blood.

Another vital role of the placenta is allowing antibodies to pass to your baby. This happens when near your due date. Your antibodies that pass through the placenta to your baby boost your baby’s immunity, especially during the first 6 months when their immune system is low.

  1. Fetal-maternal communication: The placenta allows communication between the mother and the baby through various chemical signals. These signals can influence the baby's growth and development and prepare the mother's body for labor and delivery.

All in all the placenta plays a vital role during pregnancy to ensure your baby remains viable and grows healthy while in your womb.

What is afterbirth?

During birth, your baby is usually delivered first. Thereafter the placenta is delivered. An afterbirth refers to the fetal membranes and placental tissues and membranes that are expelled from your womb after your baby is born.

What's the importance of a healthy placenta?

A healthy placenta is essential for a successful pregnancy and the long-term health of the baby. Several factors can affect the health of the placenta, including maternal age, pre-existing medical conditions, smoking, and drug use. If the placenta is damaged or not functioning correctly, it can lead to complications during pregnancy, such as fetal growth restriction, preterm labor, and stillbirth.

Common placental issues

Sometimes your placenta may experience that can affect your health and that of your baby. Many factors can affect your placental health. They include

  • Having a baby late in your reproductive years.
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having multiple pregnancies
  • Using substances such as cocaine or smoking cigarette
  • Experiencing abdominal trauma while pregnant.

What are the most common placental problems?

  1. Abruptio placenta

This is a condition whereby the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus before the baby is born. Data show that approximately 1 in every 100 pregnant women experiences an abruption placenta. While placental separation can occur at any time during pregnancy it is more common in the third trimester.

Small partial detachment of the placenta may not cause serious problems to your baby. However, you will have to visit your doctor for a regular check-up to make sure nothing goes wrong.

When the abruption is big or complete it means your baby will not be receiving enough oxygen, glucose, and nutrients. Also, the removal of harmful wastes from your baby will not be efficient. This can lead to growth restriction of your baby, preterm births, and stillbirths.

What is placenta previa? Pregnancy doctor checking pregnant woman's placenta and recommends visiting for more answers

What is Placenta Previa?

  1. Placenta previa.

A fertilized egg can implant itself in any part of your womb. when the placenta form on the posterior wall of your womb it is called the posterior placenta, it is anterior if its form on the anterior part of your placenta. Similarly, the placenta can develop in the lateral wall of your womb, thus called the lateral placenta.

The most common site for placental development is at the top of your uterus, this is called the fundal placenta.

Placenta previa refers to a condition in which the placenta grows on the lower end of the uterus. It is also called the low-lying placenta.

In placenta previa, the placenta develops very close to the cervix partially or completely covering your cervix.

In conclusion, the placenta is a vital organ that plays a crucial role in supporting fetal growth and development during pregnancy. It performs several essential functions, including nutrient and oxygen exchange, waste elimination, hormone production, immune protection, and fetal-maternal communication. Maintaining a healthy placenta is crucial for a successful pregnancy and the long-term health of the baby.

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