The Role of The Placenta During Pregnancy

f you’re recently pregnant, you may have heard a lot about the placenta like where it should be, what most affects it, how important it is for your baby, and whether consuming it after birth offers health benefits, etc. However, you may not be totally sure what it actually does. So, let’s take a closer look at how the placenta works.


What is the placenta?

The placenta is a temporary disc-shaped organ found in the uterus that grows along with a developing embryo from conception. The umbilical cord runs between the placenta and the fetus. After birth, the mother will either deliver the placenta, or it will be removed by the doctor. 


What does the placenta do?

This organ is the essential link between the mother and her developing baby. It is the baby’s only provider of life-giving necessities like:


  • Oxygen- The baby will receive oxygen from the mother’s blood that passes through the placenta.

  • Nutrients- The fetus will also receive all of their nutrition from the blood that passes through the placenta.

  • Waste Removal- All of the waste produced by the fetus (including carbon dioxide) is also passed back through the placenta and into the mother’s blood supply for disposal.

  • Hormones- The placenta is also able to provide the baby with hormones that are necessary for its development.

  • Body Temperature- This organ can help to regulate the fetus’s body temperature so that it doesn’t suffer from extreme conditions.

  • Immune Support- The placenta delivers important antibodies from the mother that will support the baby’s immune system once he or she is born.


The placenta is able to do all of this while also keeping the blood supply of the mother and the blood supply of the fetus separate, which helps to filter out some infections as well as keep the mother and baby safe if one becomes ill. However, it is still possible to detect some of the baby’s DNA in the mother’s bloodstream during pregnancy. This genetic information is often useful for non-invasive prenatal screening tests, like MaterniT21, which allow expectant parents to know their baby’s risk of being born with a genetic abnormality.


How does the placenta work?

The placenta is able to keep the blood supply of the mother and the blood supply of the baby separate because the placenta acts as a sort of barrier. This is important because of the mother and baby may not have the same blood type, which can lead to complications or miscarriage if their blood were to mix. 


The umbilical cord connects to the placenta through thousands of finger-like structures called chorionic villi that are filled with the fetus’s blood vessels. The mother’s blood then surrounds these villi, which act as a filter between the blood of the mother and her child, while still providing nutrients. 


What can be done with the placenta after birth?

Once the umbilical cord has been severed and the placenta has been extracted from the uterus, some women choose to save or preserve the placenta for different uses (freezing for stem cells, nutrition, etc.). Other women simply request that it be disposed of. There is no “right” or “wrong” in this situation, but if you have any questions about the role of the placenta during pregnancy or what to do with it after birth, speak with your doctor. They will be able to answer your questions and provide you with any resources you may need.



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