Female Diseases

What is Placenta?

What is Placenta

The placenta is a highly important organ that supports fetal growth and development during pregnancy. It is a temporary structure formed only during gestation, from conception until delivery. In this post, I will provide a detailed understanding on aspects like – what is the placenta, its role and functions, location in the body, benefits for the baby, and related risks or problems. Let’s first understand what’s the meaning of the term placenta.

Meaning of Placenta:

  • Fetal Placental Disk
  • Afterbirth
  • Chorion

As evident from its name origins, it resides in the womb nurturing the fetus. Read further for more exhaustive information on this vital maternal organ.

What is Placenta?

The placenta is a temporary maternal organ developed in a woman’s body only during pregnancy. It creates a barrier between the maternal and fetal blood allowing transfer of essential nutrients, antibodies and oxygen to the baby without mixing of blood.

Ref: apollocradle.com

So it basically acts as a transport system to deliver food from the mother’s blood to the developing embryo.

The placenta is a round or oval shaped organ with extensive network of blood vessels. It resides in the uterus attached to its wall. The placenta starts developing soon after conception and exists till childbirth after which it is gently delivered by the doctor.

In short, the placental unit creates a protective prenatal environment for the fetus while allowing it access to nutrients for growth. Now let’s understand its critical functions and then discuss location, benefits and associated problems.

Functions of Placenta

The fetus is solely dependent on the placenta for its complete nourishment and other needs throughout the 9 months of pregnancy. Key functions include:

Ref: zerotofinals.com
  • Nutrient exchange: The placenta allows for the exchange of nutrients, oxygen, and waste products between you and your baby. Oxygen and nutrients from your blood pass through the placenta to your baby’s blood. Waste products, such as carbon dioxide, travel from your baby’s blood into your blood through the placenta.
  • Hormone production: The placenta produces several hormones that are essential for a healthy pregnancy. These hormones help regulate your body for pregnancy, including:
    • Progesterone: This hormone helps thicken the lining of your uterus (endometrium) and supports the growth of the uterine lining.
      • Estrogen: This hormone helps prepare your breasts for milk production and stimulates the growth of the uterus.
      • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG): This hormone is produced early in pregnancy and helps maintain the corpus luteum, which is a temporary gland in your ovary that produces progesterone.
  • Protection: The placenta acts as a barrier to protect your baby from harmful substances and germs that may be in your blood. However, some substances, such as alcohol, drugs, and medications, can pass through the placenta to your baby.
  • Immune system development: The placenta allows antibodies from your blood to pass to your baby. These antibodies help protect your baby from infection after birth until your baby’s own immune system is mature.
  • Temperature regulation: The placenta helps regulate your baby’s temperature.

It serves as a literal lifeline meeting all of the unborn baby’s needs during gestation. Let’s look at its location next.

Where is Placenta Located?

Ref: carehospitals

The placenta resides inside the uterus attached to its wall. The precise site of attachment varies case-by-case. But mostly it’s fixed on the upper wall or anterior/posterior sections of the uterus. The adhesion point is termed decidua basalis.

There are two variants based on placental positioning:

  1. Anterior Placenta – Attached to front wall of uterus
  2. Posterior Placenta – Attached to rear wall

Both support fetal development well without much difference. Only possible concern is reduced visibility on ultrasounds for complicated pregnancies. Otherwise, the functionality remains the same.

Benefits of Placenta

There are some potential benefits to consuming the placenta after childbirth, a practice known as placentophagy. However, it’s important to note that research on the benefits of placentophagy is limited.

Ref: Twitter

Here are some of the reported benefits of placentophagy:

  • Increased energy levels: Some mothers report feeling more energetic after consuming their placenta. This could be due to the presence of iron and other nutrients in the placenta.
  • Improved mood: The placenta contains hormones that some believe may help improve mood and reduce the risk of postpartum depression.
  • Increased milk supply: Some studies suggest that placentophagy may help increase breast milk production.

It also stores nutrients for emergency use and produces hormones benefiting the baby. So in many ways, it’s a self-sufficient mini hospital system inside the womb for the fetus! Now let’s discuss the potential risks and problems.

Placenta Related Pregnancy Problems

The placenta is a vital organ for a healthy pregnancy, but sometimes problems can arise. Here are some placenta-related pregnancy problems:

  • Placenta previa: This is a condition where the placenta implants low in the uterus, either partially or completely covering the cervix. This can cause painless vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimester. Placenta previa can increase the risk of heavy bleeding during delivery and may necessitate a cesarean section .
  • Placental abruption: This is a serious condition that occurs when the placenta partially or completely separates from the uterine wall before birth. This can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients and can cause vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, and uterine tenderness .
  • Uterine rupture: In rare cases, placenta previa or abruption can lead to uterine rupture, which is a tear in the uterus. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgery to deliver the baby and repair the uterus .
  • Accreta spectrum (placenta accreta, increta, percreta): This is a group of conditions where the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterine wall. In placenta accreta, the placenta is abnormally adherent to the myometrium (muscular layer of the uterus). Placenta increta involves the placenta growing into the myometrium. Placenta percreta is the most severe form, where the placenta grows completely through the uterus and may even attach to nearby organs. These conditions can cause severe bleeding after childbirth and may necessitate a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) .
  • Placental insufficiency: This is a condition where the placenta is unable to adequately nourish the developing baby. This can lead to fetal growth restriction, a condition where the baby is smaller than expected for its gestational age .
  • Vasa previa: This is a rare condition where the fetal blood vessels (vessels in the umbilical cord or connecting the placenta to the fetus) pass ahead of the baby in the lower part of the uterus, near the internal cervical opening (os). This can cause serious bleeding during delivery if the vessels are damaged .

If you are experiencing any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, it is important to see your doctor right away to determine the cause. Early diagnosis and treatment of placenta-related problems can help improve pregnancy outcomes.

Such complications significantly increase bleeding risks for both mother and child during pregnancy. Testing for these conditions is highly recommended so that extra precautions can be taken.


So this summarizes an easy explanation of what is placenta, its role during pregnancy along with location, functions and potential issues. To conclude, it is a temporary fetal life-supporting organ system transferring nutrients and oxygen to enable growth of the baby inside for 9 months. I hope this post has provided you a helpful understanding of the crucial maternal structure – the placenta.



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