During pregnancy, your body goes through multiple physical changes to enable the growth of your baby. One of these changes is the development of placenta in the uterus.
This organ or structure provides oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby and is therefore, an important organ that not only propels your baby’s growth but also keeps it safe. Here’s all you need to know about it.
Placental Development: All You Need To Know
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During the course of your pregnancy, the placenta grows from a few cells into an organ that will almost weigh about 0/45kg (1 pound). By the end of week 12, the placenta is formed and ready to take over nourishment for the baby.
It is attached to the uterine wall from the top, side, and front or back and your baby’s umbilical cord arises from it. It continues to grow throughout your pregnancy and is considered mature by week 34.
In rare cases, it may get attached towards the lower part of the uterus. When this happens, it’s called placenta previa or a low-lying placenta.
Function of placenta
The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby. It also works in reverse, meaning that it removes waste products and carbon dioxide from the baby’s blood back to your blood.
Since the placenta keeps your blood separate from your baby’s blood, it also helps to keep some bacteria and viruses out of the womb, thus protecting the fetus from infections.
Secretion of hormones
The placenta also produces and secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream to help support the pregnancy and the growth of your baby. These hormones include:
- Progesterone: This hormone is responsible for stimulating the thickening of the uterine lining in anticipation of implantation of a fertilised egg.
- Estrogen: This hormone is responsible for developing female sexual characters and is released by the placenta to maintain healthy pregnancy.
- Human placental lactogen (hPL): In addition to providing nutrition to the fetus, this hormone plays a role in stimulating milk glands in the breasts in anticipation of breastfeeding.
- Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG): This hormone is exclusively only produced during pregnancy —specifically in the placenta. The HCG hormone levels found in maternal blood and urine increase during the first trimester. They also contribute to nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
Placental Development And Morning Sickness
This is because, by the end of the first trimester (around week 10), the placenta takes over the production of progesterone. This helps to reduce nausea and vomiting.
In some cases, sadly your morning sickness won’t go away. Blame it on the placenta in this case, as well. Those frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting may continue for some time if you have a higher concentration of a protein called GDF15 in your blood.
Placental Development: What Affects The Health Of The Placenta
The health of the placenta ensures the health and growth of your baby. While in most pregnancies, various factors can affect the health of the placenta. Some are under your control and in some cases, it are not.
Age: Some placental problems are actually more common in older women, especially after the age of 40.
High blood pressure: This condition can limit the nutrient and oxygen supply to the baby and that can resultantly cause placental separation (abruption) or other complications such as early birth or low birth weight.
Twin or multiple pregnancies: In cases of multiple pregnancies including twins, where you have more than one baby growing inside you, the risk to the health of your placenta is higher.
Blood clotting problem: If you have a problem that either impairs your blood’s ability to clot or increases its likelihood of clotting, it increases the risk of placental problems.
Uterine surgery: If you’ve had any surgery on your uterus, such as a C-section or surgery to remove fibroids, you also stand a risk.
Substance use. If you smoke or use substance during pregnancy, then you stand a risk of deteriorating placental health. In fact, just as the nutrients you take during pregnancy reach your baby through the placenta, the negative substances also reach the baby the same way. Substance abuse, specifically can cause a miscarriage, deformities, early delivery, and even low birth weight.
Other than the above-mentioned cases, if your water breaks before you go into labour, the risk of the placental problem further increases.
Most Common Placental Development Problems
During your pregnancy, you are at risk of placental development issues, specifically the following:
- Placental abruption. In this scenario, the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery. It can happen either partially or completely. This is extremely dangerous as it can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients. It can cause you to bleed heavily and result in an emergency situation requiring early delivery.
Placenta previa. This condition occurs when the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix, which is the outlet for the uterus. This problem might resolve as the uterus grows. However, placenta previa can cause severe vaginal bleeding during pregnancy or delivery. If this condition persists late in the third trimester, your health care provider will recommend a C-section.
Placenta accreta. In this case, part or all of the placenta remains firmly attached to the uterus. This condition occurs when the blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. This can result in severe blood loss during delivery. Your health care provider may recommend a C-section followed by removal of your uterus.
- Retained placenta. If the placenta is not delivered within 30 minutes after childbirth, it’s known as a retained placenta. If it is left untreated, then a retained placenta can cause severe infection or life-threatening blood loss.
Delivering The Placenta: How It Is Removed From The Body
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After you deliver your baby, it’s now time to deliver your placenta, which is third stage of childbirth.
In this stage, your uterus will continue to contract, allowing the placenta to separate from the uterine wall and eventually through the birth canal. If you had a vaginal birth, the process will take around 30 minutes.
Your doctor may ask you to push, or they may massage your uterus. In some cases, you may be given the medication Pitocin (oxytocin) via injection, which can help contract the uterus. Or they may recommend a little skin-to-skin contact with your baby to help your uterus contract.
Alternatively, if you had a caesarean delivery, your doctor will remove the placenta surgically.
Either way, it is important to sustain a healthy pregnancy to make the expulsion process easier.
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To ensure healthy pregnancy, opt for regular checkups, and discuss your health conditions with the doctor. More importantly, stay away from substance abuse as well as smoking and drinking.
Don’t take symptoms including vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, severe back pain and uterine contractions lightly during your pregnancy.
Source: MayoClinic, Healthline
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