An organ that grows in the womb during pregnancy, learn what could affect the health of the placenta, baby’s lifeline.

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Shortly after pushing bubba out into the world, you’ll likely experience a small gush of blood from down there. That blood-filled blob the doctor will discard has sustained your baby’s life in the womb for 40 weeks.

Do you know that the placenta is the first organ to develop when you’re pregnant but the last organ to leave your body after you’ve delivered your bundle? In fact, by the 12thweek of pregnancy, the fully-functioning placenta will cater to baby’s every need while he’s in utero.

SmartParents ob-gyn expert Dr Christopher Chong explains that the placenta — which attaches to the wall of your womb — transports blood, oxygen and food to the foetus via the umbilical cord. The placenta also processes and expels any waste material from your foetus back into your body, notes ob-gyn Dr Peter Chew.

Crucially, it is responsible for producing amniotic fluid and supplying antibodies to keep your baby safe from infection. Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital’s ob-gyn Dr Dharshini Gopalakrishnakone adds that the placenta also produces vital hormones — such as progesterone — so that your kewpie develops normally in the womb.

Once baby is delivered, the placenta will detach from the uterine wall, pass through your cervix, then out of your body.

The placenta — which attaches to the wall of your womb — transports blood, oxygen and food to the foetus via the umbilical cord.

Celeb mothers like Katherine Heigl and Kim Kardashian have eaten their own placentas. These mothers believe that doing so can boost energy levels, improve the quality of breastmilk, curb postpartum depression and slow postnatal bleeding.

Dr Chong points out, “Your placenta functions like your air-conditioner filter or car filter, there’s no scientifically proven benefits to consuming it.”

Learn what four issues could affect the placenta, which could potentially cause heavy vaginal bleeding and endanger your baby’s life:

1) Placental Abruption

WHAT The placenta can separate or peel away from the uterine wall either partially or completely in some pregnancies. Common symptoms of this condition is vaginal bleeding and abdominal cramps.

THE EXPERT SAYS This is a potentially fatal condition for you and your foetus. Dr Chew says a placental abruption can lead to life-threatening blood loss and multiple organ failure — especially of the kidney. Your baby may experience foetal distress and even die as a result of oxygen and nutrient deprivation. Dr Dharshini cautions that expectant mums who are aged 40 and above, or those carrying twins or multiples, or who have high blood pressure are at higher risk of placental abruption.

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2) Placenta Previa

WHAT The position of the placenta can change during the course of your pregnancy but it usually attaches itself to the top or on the side of the womb in the area closest to the spine. However, in one to two per cent of pregnancies, the placenta partially or completely covers the opening of the cervix — blocking your baby’s exit route. Severe vaginal bleeding before or during delivery — usually after the 28th week of pregnancy — is a common sign of this problem. If you spot any bleeding, Dr Dharshini advises that you contact your ob-gyn immediately and make your way to the hospital.

THE EXPERT SAYS Even if your doctor has discovered that you have a low-lying placenta in the earlier part of your pregnancy, do note that the placenta will still be able to move upwards as the pregnancy progresses. Dr Chong shares, “The majority of my patients with a low-lying placenta discover during their detailed scan at five months that their placenta has moved up.” If the bleeding is a small and can be stopped, Dr Chew notes you’ll be placed on bed rest until baby is ready for delivery. On the other hand, heavy blood loss will mean an immediate C-section.

“Occasionally, the placenta may become [too attached to the uterine wall] but patient is not bleeding, so medications and antibiotics will usually be given first with removal scheduled at a later date.”

3) Placenta Accreta

WHAT For some expectant mums, the blood vessels can attach too deeply to the uterine wall, which triggers massive bleeding ― usually during the third trimester of your pregnancy. In other more aggressive forms of this condition, the blood vessels break through the wall of your womb and even sticks to the bladder — referred to as placenta percreta. Or, the vessels could also end up adhering to the muscles around the womb, resulting in something called placenta increta.

THE EXPERT SAYS Often, what causes your placenta accreta remains unknown. However Dr Chong lists conditions that have been linked to the condition:

* Previous damage to the lining of one’s womb from invasive surgeries like abortions.

* If you had suffered placenta accreta in previous pregnancies.

* Any form of womb abnormality.

In most cases of placenta increta and percreta, a hysterectomy is usually unavoidable. If you’re afraid of taking lifelong medication after this op, Dr Chong assures that only meds for blood loss need to be prescribed, unless your ovaries have been removed. Nor should the medication your ability to breastfeed.

4) Retained Placenta

WHAT Your placenta is usually delivered during the third stage of labour after you’ve delivered. Conditions such as a placenta previa and placenta accrete may cause the organ to adhere deeply to the uterine wall, such that it’s stuck inside your body. Your doctor may massage your lower abdomen to try to get your womb to contract and expel the placenta. Dr Dharshini says about five to 10 per cent of women may experience such a condition. “This may result in heavy bleeding or fevers up to six weeks after delivery that may require surgery.”

THE EXPERT SAY The placenta that’s trapped inside your womb may be removed either by hand, by vacuum or dilation and curettage to clear the womb lining. Dr Chew notes. “Occasionally, the placenta may become [too attached to the uterine wall] although the patient is not bleeding, so medications and antibiotics will usually be given first with the removal scheduled at a later date.”

Photos: iStock

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