The placenta is crucial during pregnancy

Quick notes:

  • The placenta produces several hormones that are needed during pregnancy

  • Consult your doctor during pregnancy if you have vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, back pain or uterine contractions

  • Alcohol, nicotine and other drugs and medicines can cross the placenta and damage your baby

The placenta is crucial to keeping your baby alive and well during pregnancy. It is an organ attached to the lining of the womb, usually at the top or side. A mother’s blood is filtered through the placenta, giving oxygen, glucose, and other essential nutrients to your baby via the umbilical cord. The placenta also filters out substances that could be harmful and removes carbon dioxide and waste products from your baby’s blood.

The placenta produces several hormones that are needed during pregnancy, such as lactogen, estrogen, and progesterone. It keeps the mother’s blood separate from the baby’s blood to protect the baby against infections. Towards the end of the pregnancy, the placenta passes on antibodies to protect the baby after birth.

What happens to the placenta during pregnancy?

The placenta grows low in the womb but moves to the side or up as the baby grows. Your doctor will notice the position of the placenta at your 18-week ultrasound to make sure everything is all right. Alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs and medicines can cross the placenta and damage your baby. Although it does it best to filter out harmful substances, some can slip through, especially if you have over-indulged, so it essential to look after yourself and take care of your health.

The placenta is expelled from your body after birth, usually about 5 to 30 minutes after your baby is born. This is called the third stage of labor. After the baby is born, you will continue to have mild contractions. You might not notice them as you cuddle your newborn, but your body is still working on releasing the placenta. You will need to give one or two more pushes to deliver the placenta.

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Sometimes your abdomen will be massaged, or you will be given an injection of oxytocin to help the placenta to leave your body. The umbilical cord will be gently pulled to help it come away. If you have a cesarean section, the doctor will remove the placenta at the same time.

The whole placenta must come out after pregnancy. If any fragments of the placenta stay inside, they will have to be removed to prevent bleeding and infection.

Monitoring the placenta

Hopefully, you will have a healthy pregnancy, although there can be problems with the placenta due to your age, blood pressure, previous cesarean sections, and being pregnant with multiples. Your doctor will routinely check for conditions that affect the placenta. These can sometimes cause heavy vaginal bleeding or low abdominal pain. It goes without saying that if you have any symptoms like vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, back pain, or uterine contractions, you need to get them checked.

Never be afraid to voice your concerns. If you are worried about anything during your pregnancy, talk it over with your doctor or nurse.

By visiting your doctor regularly throughout pregnancy, and having health checks, any potential problems like high blood pressure can be addressed.

If there were problems with your placenta during a previous pregnancy, or you have had surgery on your uterus, you will need to make your doctor aware of it if they don’t already have it on record. If you decide you want a cesarean section, this too can be discussed at your next visit. That way, you can make sure you get the best care during your pregnancy.

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