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Know-how: Placenta

What is placenta, what placental complications can occur, and what role does it play in pregnancy?

Posted: 29 September 2009
by Laura Lee Davies

The placenta
The placenta develops, attached to the interior wall of the womb, at the same time as the fetus. It not only creates the pregnancy hormones needed for the mother to physically change during pregnancy, but also acts as a feeding mechanism and protects the baby from the mother's own immune system.
Just as blood delivers oxygen and other vital nourishment to parts of your body, so blood is doing the same job for your baby, via a network of vessels in the placenta. The oxygen and nutrients are passed to your baby from the placenta through the umbilical cord (two arteries and a vein covered in a fatty outer layer). The placenta is also the route by which your baby's waste is taken away to be processed and flushed out by your kidneys.
The good condition of the placenta is essential for a healthy and successful pregnancy. The problem of placental insufficiency is more easy for medical experts to deal with in this day and age, but is still something which needs to be detected early on.
A potentially more serious condition is placenta praevia where the placenta is either completely or partially covering the cervix, thus blocking the pathway when the baby is due. Placenta praevia can cause serious bleeding, but it can be picked up easily during regular ultrasound scans and your midwife team and obstetrician can discuss with you what options there may be for a safe full-term pregnancy and delivery.
The placenta is 'born' around 20 minutes after the baby itself. Feel free to ask to look at it – if it's rich red then you can see it is still in good condition.
One of the reasons why obstetricians take your due date seriously is because when your baby goes too far over this date, the placenta starts to deteriorate, failing to provide enough oxygen and nutrition for your baby to continue to develop healthily in the womb. Consequently, if you go too far over your due date, you will be advised to opt for having your baby induced.

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