9 fascinating facts about the placenta

Wise up to little-known facts about one of women’s most important, yet least understood, organs.

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Amazing changes are taking place both on the inside and outside of your body during pregnancy. For instance, as your placenta nourishes your foetus, your glowing skin is an outward sign of the incredible transformation that’s happening within you.

This little-known temporary organ often shows up in your sonogram as nothing more than an unremarkable mass. But what is it and why is it there? SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, an ob-gyn at Gleneagles Hospital, shares intriguing truths about this organ…

1) The placenta is a “one-stop” organ for all of bubba’s needs
While your kewpie is growing in the womb, the placenta is the only organ that will support all of his needs. Your baby is joined to the placenta via the umbilical cord ― and it’s through this tube that nutrients, oxygen and even waste products are taken to and from your baby. The placenta also produces the crucial nutrients, hormones and antibodies to ward off your little one’s infections.

While your kewpie is growing in the womb, the placenta is the only organ that will support all of his needs.

2) Obese mums-to-be can compromise the placenta’s functions
Dr Chong says common obesity-related conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes may result in placenta insufficiency. “The term means that the placenta cannot optimally or adequately perform its functions of transferring oxygen, food and nutrients to the foetus and cannot fully support the growth of the foetus, either.” Luckily, Singapore’s incidence of placenta insufficiency is low, thanks to good antenatal care.

3) Your placenta may be larger than normal if you’re overweight
Also, if you are carrying a large baby or suffering from diabetes, your placenta may be larger than average. The average placenta weighs about 470g to 750g at birth. It also measures about 22cm in diameter and about 2 to 2.5cm in thickness.

4) Smoking, drinking, sexually transmitted infections and drug abuse may damage the placenta
Several health risks may result such as restricted foetal growth, premature delivery, foetal distress, jaundice and even death.


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5) Fraternal twins have their own placentas while identical twins share the same one
When two eggs are fertilised by two sperm at the same time — which produces fraternal twins — this results in two different amniotic sacs with two different placentas. Identical twins, on the other hand, are the result of a fertilised egg splitting into two within the same water bag, so they share the same placenta.

6) Sharing a placenta may jeopardise one twin’s growth
Dr Chong states that twin-to-twin transfusion is a very common condition in identical twins as it occurs when the placenta is shared unequally between the two. This can threaten the life of either twin as:

* One may receive a decreased amount of blood, resulting in not just slower growth, but also less urine. This leads to the lack of amniotic fluid, since most of the fluid in the sac comes from urine.

* The twin who receives too much blood may experience heart strain, which can lead to heart failure over time.

Some women — about five to 10 per cent — may have trouble expelling the placenta as it is attached too deeply to the uterine wall. A hysterectomy may then be required to prevent any infections from occurring.

Because of these reasons, Dr Chong notes that the doctor may order premature delivery — usually via C-section — in order to save the poorly developing foetus. The smaller twin will also require a longer stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.

7) The position of your placenta changes during pregnancy
By the end of your pregnancy, it should attach itself to the top or on the side of the womb in the area closest to the spine. However, it is also known to settle in different positions that may lead to labour complications. In some cases, an emergency C-section — or worse, a hysterectomy — may be required to save you and your mini-me’s life.

8) The placenta may get stuck inside the womb
After you’ve delivered your bundle, you’ll experience a small gush of blood as the placenta is also pushed out from down there. However, for some women — about five to 10 per cent — may have trouble expelling the placenta as it is attached too deeply to the uterine wall. A hysterectomy may then be required to prevent infections.

9) Some women eat their own placenta, even though there are no scientifically proven benefits to this practice
Advocates say that eating your placenta — called placentophagy — can ward off postpartum depression and slow postnatal bleeding, while boosting energy levels and improving the quality of breastmilk.

Photos: iStock

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