The Life of the Placenta: Prenatal to Post-Delivery

As your baby grows inside of the womb, he or she is growing alongside an organ that we call the placenta. During pregnancy, this organ supplies oxygen and nutrients to your baby. In addition to blood and nutrients, the placenta also produces hormones like hCG, estrogen, and progesterone. Connected by the umbilical cord, a placenta and fetus exist in symbiosis until a baby’s delivery.

The Life Line

Threaded with three blood vessels, two arteries, and a larger vein, the umbilical cord is the feed by which blood flows between the mother and fetus. Some umbilical cords can grow to be as long as 60 centimeters, allowing babies the freedom to swim and move within the amniotic fluid. On some occasions the umbilical cord will wrap around the fetus, posing the risk of birth injury and cerebral palsy.

Origin of the Organ

In the third week of pregnancy, after an egg has been released and fertilized, the follicle it emerged from breaks down. Once collapsed, the former corpus luteum of the ovary begins to produce the hormone progesterone. By the fourth week of pregnancy, this mass of cells clusters into a proto-embryo and implants itself into the uterine wall. Some of these fertile stem cells split from the mass and burrow even deeper. While their brother and sister cells go on to form the embryo’s fingers, toes, and brain, these cells shape into a disc. Placentas are fully grown by the twelfth week of pregnancy—weighing as much as a full pound on the day of delivery.

Placental Complications

Like all aspects of fetal development, placental growth must be monitored by a responsible medical practitioner. Whether your baby is being born in the Baltimore area or New Jersey, birth injury and cerebral palsy could threaten their safety and livelihood. With ultrasound, a doctor can look for symptoms of placental complications like placental abruptions, accreta, and previa. After a baby has been delivered (through contractions or cesarean section), the placenta soon follows in an afterbirth. Doctors or midwives will inspect the placenta and its membranes, ensuring that all of it has been delivered.

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