So What Does the Placenta Do?
I love the myriad of questions I am faced with when I tell people that I am a student midwife and have a love for the placenta…. The faces of the women generations older than me (sorry grandma). It’s usually disgust, confusion and shock! I remind them that they too once had a placenta or several even... I think this shock comes from a place of misinformation and lack of understanding of what this vital organ can do! There is a huge shortage of information being presented to women during their pregnancy about how truly miraculous the placenta is and how VITAL it is for your growing baby. When I talk to new mothers to be I am often surprised to learn that they themselves aren’t really sure what the placenta is or how it can benefit them during the postpartum time. So I thought it would be a good idea to break down what this organ is and where it comes from and where it goes after your baby is born.
Let’s start from the beginning…
WHAT IS THE PLACENTA? AKA “THE BABY NUTRIENT TRANSPORTER”
The placenta is an endocrine organ that grows in your uterus during pregnancy and only during pregnancy. The placenta attaches where the fertilized egg implants inside the uterus just 10 days after conception! This organ’s MAIN JOB is to make sure your baby is receiving oxygen and nutrients and to remove any waste products from your developing baby’s blood stream. HOLY IMPORTANT!!! The placenta is attached to the wall of your uterus and contains the amniotic sac in which your baby is floating and growing inside. Attached to the placenta is the umbilical cord which contains 2 arteries and 1 vein that carry all of the essentials from mother to baby, the lifeline.
WHAT DOES THE PLACENTA DO?
Aside from being the only line of communication from mother to baby, it has a large role to make sure that baby is being nourished and that all hormones are being produced properly. Nerd alert! Skip the next paragraph if big words intimidate you… The placenta makes the pregnancy hormone hCG, hPL, progesterone and estrogen. The placenta also delivers via diffusion some other essentials including oxygen and nutrients like glucose. The placenta also makes sure to remove carbon dioxide, urea and uric acid from the baby’s blood stream to allow for proper blood flow to and from the mother. The placenta is also responsible for the baby’s immunity by providing immunoglobulins such as IgA and IgG to protect from possible infections in the womb and gives the baby a stronger immune system up to 3 months after the baby is born!
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PLACENTA AFTER BIRTH?
After the birth of your baby, the placenta follows! It is as simple as that. During the third stage of labor in a natural birth, the birth of the placenta is often not rushed and contractions tend to be less intense than those experienced during the birth of the baby. The birth of the placenta can be as quick as 5 minutes or up to one hour. The placenta is attached to baby via the umbilical cord and it is essential to delay the clamping of the cord until the cord stops pulsing (more on this soon!) to ensure that blood flow too and from the mother has ceased. For some women the birth of the placenta can cause major issues such as hemorrhage and placenta retention and medical intervention is necessary. In the hospital setting the placenta is examined briefly for any calcifications or abnormalities and discarded as medical waste. If requested prior to birth in a hospital or for women who birth in their home, the placenta can be examined and kept on ice to prepare for consumption as pills from encapsulation or consumed raw in smoothies.
So there it is! Placenta 101. It is vital to maintain a healthy well rounded diet during your pregnancy and avoid any and all stress, alcohol and drugs to avoid complications from the placenta especially if you plan on consuming this organ after birth. Your baby becomes what you are and what you eat as does your placenta. Placentophagy or the consumption of the placenta offers so many benefits for new moms! Some of the most common benefits of this magical natural elixir include an increased release of oxytocin, reduction of postpartum stress and depression, increased milk supply and iron replacement. For more information about the benefits of placenta encapsulation be sure to subscribe to receive updates on future posts!
Love and Light,