Women who embark on the journey of pregnancy know that some pretty weird stuff is going on with their bodies. Women are, generally speaking, prepared for these changes. The expected stuff, like swollen feet and a protruding belly are just part of the package deal. They are well advertised.
But what about the internal changes? What about all the weird stuff that’s going on in there? Of course, women realise that their hormones are going to go into overdrive and wreak havoc with anything that comes into their path. Yes, the hormonal rollercoaster that comes with pregnancy is just an internal chance that women have to ride out.
However, there are some other bizarre and interesting things going on inside while the baby grows. And one of these things is the fact that something is growing alongside the baby. A whole new organ is growing, in fact.
That’s right. You might have thought that you were just growing a baby, but you’re actually growing a new organ, too. Talk about a two for one deal!
The placenta is a vital organ that grows during pregnancy. It is literally the lifeline between mom and baby, the thing that is connecting the baby to the important vitamins, nutrients, and oxygen it needs to grow and thrive. The umbilical cord is attached to the placenta and is what transfers things around the body, from mom’s bloodstream to the placenta to the baby.
It’s a beautiful, but truly weird cycle of things that go on. The placenta needs to be congratulated for its all hard, but also acknowledged that some of the things it gets up to during pregnancy are downright weird. Like these things, for instance.
If there has ever been something to blame the pregnancy cravings and increased appetite on, it's the placenta. This is the greedy organ that demands expectant moms consume all the food everywhere. The food mom eats doesn’t go directly to the baby, rather it has a stopover through the placenta which is where it is processed, so to speak.
All the food that you eat during pregnancy goes into the body, is broken down, and the proteins enter the bloodstream. All the nutritional goodness that has now found its way to the bloodstream is passed on to the placenta. From the placenta, it makes the journey along the umbilical cord where it enters the baby’s bloodstream. Of course, this is why it is so vitally important that expectant moms really put an effort into having a healthy diet during pregnancy. It is quite the process, really, but you can safely blame the placenta for increasing your appetite during pregnancy!
Since little baby inside the womb is still a growing fetus, not all of the organs have developed and not all of them are functioning. This is why it is a 9 month process - these things take time! The lungs are one of the last organs to fully develop and function in the baby. So while little baby is in the uterus, physical breathing as we recognise it isn’t happening, but another type of breathing is.
This is because the placenta is essentially breathing for your baby. Right up to the moment of birth when little baby enters the world, covered in goop and screaming, the placenta is responsible for all of the oxygen demand and supply. The placenta passes the oxygen through the umbilical cord and it then enters the baby’s bloodstream. This means that you, as the mom, are literally sharing the air you breath with your little baby!
The placenta is, by all definitions, an organ in the body. However, during pregnancy, it acts like a gland. This is the thing that is responsible for triggering the secretion of hormones. Yes, the placenta gives the hormones a green light to go ahead and cause chaos in the emotional sector of the body.
There are certain hormones that the placenta secrets into your body during pregnancy. These include the human chorionic gonadotropin which stimulates the production of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones have a continual rise throughout pregnancy and peak at the end of the first trimester. They don’t go anywhere though, they just calm down somewhat.
Another hormone released from the placenta is the human placental lactogen. This is the hormone that speeds up mom’s metabolism. Growing a baby does require energy, after all. It also helps to prepare the body for breastfeeding throughout the duration of pregnancy, with subtle hints towards the breasts that they’re going into production soon!
During pregnancy, the body has to pump an increased supply of blood around. This is because the baby needs blood delivered to help it grow (and stay alive) and mom also needs more blood because her body is working in overdrive to accommodate the little growing baby.
The increased amount of blood pumping around the body during pregnancy often leads to an increased body temperature. This is what results in a constant sweat-fest for those delightful 9 months and constantly feeling like things are on fire. And you know what is responsible for this? Not the baby exactly, but the placenta! This is the greedy organ that is requesting an increase in supply and demand of the blood. In fact, about 20 per cent of all blood supply passes through the placenta every minute. Um, greedy much? The next time you feel one of those uncomfortable hot flush spells sweep over the body, don’t blame the baby - blame the placenta!
Just as the future baby is made up chromosomes and genetics from both mom and dad/sperm donor, the placenta too is a combination of these genetic make ups. At the first point of fertilisation, the sperm and the egg meet. Basic biology, right?
The sperm and the egg become what is called a blastocyst. This becomes both the placenta and the baby. Biology just got weird. As the blastocyst develops, it separates in a way, so that the baby can grow from one cluster of cells, and the placenta from another.
So while it is easy to think of the placenta as being something that mom grows, it is actually a team effort from the sperm guy as well. Mom still gets the credit for housing the placenta, though! Nonetheless, it is still an amazing thing to think that all this happens from just one tiny egg and one fast swimming sperm.
So this one is higher up on the weird spectrum and certainly proves just how special the placenta is. Basically, there are bits of the placenta called exosomes. These are released by the placenta in small doses. They can be extracted and examined, and therefore studied and understood.
This is really important in the medical field as it has always been hard for doctors to assess the placenta. Without an invasive procedure, ‘communicating’ with the placenta has been next to impossible, which is frustrating for doctors as the placenta contains so much information about the baby’s growth and development. However, now with more research going into these exosomes, doctors are able to extract information from them. Therefore, the placenta is kind of using these as a communication tool to let mom (via the medical understanding of doctors) know that baby is going well. Oh science, you’re the real MVP, aren’t you!
Interestingly enough, the placenta is the only organ in the body that realises when its time is done. The placenta is like the most efficient and practical friend out there. It comes along, has a good time, gets the job done, and doesn’t overstay the welcome. The placenta is ready to go when the time is right. Talk about polite!
There are other parts of the body that are disposable, such as wisdom teeth. These bad boys aren’t actually vital to human life, but they stick around like a sore thumb. And asking them to vacate the premises is one painful procedure. The placenta, on the other hand, won’t put you through anything like that. Rather, when the time comes for the baby to be born, the placenta recognises that it won’t be needed any longer. Therefore, it comes sliding on out of the birthing canal, right behind the baby. It may not look pretty, but it is doing you a favour. Oh, and the placenta is happy to be replaced by another when the time is right for baby number 2.
Since the placenta is an organ that is self-disposing, it is also self-replacing. Although it doesn’t literally replace itself, since a placenta from one pregnancy will vacate the body after giving birth, it does re-grow. Each placenta that grows, just as each baby grows, is individual and made up of different cells. This is because the placenta is made up from different elements from both the ova and the sperm at the point of fertilisation. It’s the same idea behind the organ, just a new (and maybe improved) edition.
It is rather amazing that the placenta functions as an organ solely for the purpose of pregnancy. There are few others organs in the body that appear at a time only when they are needed and are able to dispose of themselves when they are no longer needed. Cheers to the placenta for knowing its role in life and sticking to it like a champ!
Long before life of changing diapers and cleaning up spills and thrills all over the place begins for a new mom, the placenta has already been doing all the hard work. As the placenta grows, it actually takes on the role of many different organs. For the growing baby, the placenta acts as a set of lungs to breathe oxygen in and a ‘mouth’ to deliver food to the blood stream. What’s more, the placenta is acting as a super nanny and keeping things clean in the womb as well.
The placenta is basically a self-cleaning mechanism that removes waste products from the baby’s bloodstream. It ensures that only the good stuff is going in, and it filters out any nasties from entering the bloodstream of the growing baby. This is super important in keeping out any toxins. Of course, you still have a role to play in this part of the cleaning stage of baby’s life by ensuring you don’t pour any nasty toxins down in the first place, such as alcohol!
Just as the baby makes the uterus grow from the size of a peach to a watermelon, the baby also makes the placenta grow alongside it. This baby really just needs moral support from the inside as it grows, apparently. More importantly, the baby needs these spaces to grow to support the development that is taking place.
For instance, the uterus is required to grow so that the baby has a physical space large enough to accommodate the rapid growth that occurs over the 9 month period. Similarly, the baby needs the placenta to grow to support the nutritional demands and the oxygen supply it requires. Realistically, the size that the placenta starts off at could not deliver enough food and oxygen to a baby at 8 months old. For this simple reason alone, the placenta grows as the baby needs it to. Don’t worry though, the placenta never grows to the same size as the baby!
Obviously, the placenta needs to be attached to the uterus in some way. This is how it connects the baby to mom and the umbilical cord and all that important stuff. Through this connection, the baby gets the nutrients and vitamins and oxygen it needs to survive inside the womb. The equation is simple really: uterus plus placenta equals nice and cosy home for baby to develop and get ready for life.
So the umbilical cord connects the baby to the placenta. But what is it that connects the placenta to the uterus, exactly? Well, there are small, weird looking, fingerlike growths that tuck into the uterine wall and keeps the placenta attached. Yeah, there’s really no way to paint a pretty picture of what this looks like. After all, things don’t have to be glamorous inside the uterus, they just have to be functional, right? But yeah, finger-like growths. Weird.
There is no other way to describe the placenta than being a lumpy, squishy thing. It is super important and fundamental to the baby’s life, but there isn’t anything too attractive or appealing about the placenta.
Anyway, you will get to see what we mean for yourself when the placenta follows the baby out of the womb. This is called the afterbirth, and is a lot less painful than the first birth. The placenta doesn’t need you to push and scream, it’ll just slide out, covered in its own goop and blood. Typically, the doctors dispose of the placenta as medical waste straight away. However, if you’re curious enough, you can ask to have a look at it. If you want to follow in the footsteps of other mammal species, you could even eat it. Thankfully that isn’t a compulsory instinct in our part of the animal kingdom these days!
Plain and simple, the placenta is home to nutrients. There are vitamins, minerals, and literally everything a growing baby needs right in the one organ. This is saying a lot for an organ that is actually relatively small. At full term pregnancy, the placenta averages 22 centimetres in length and around 2 centimetres in thickness. The thickest part of the placenta is the middle bit where the umbilical cord stems from and the edges are the thinnest. In total, the placenta weighs around 500 grams.
So you’re imagining something smaller than the length of a ruler and without much bulk to it. This thing doesn’t weigh very much, yet it has the capability to store so many nutrients that it can support a developing baby. On top of this, the placenta is also working as a hormone gland to stimulate production of estrogen and progesterone for mom’s sake. That is a pretty impressively hardworking organ, you gotta give it that much!
Since the placenta is always working so hard, it deserves to have a little freedom. The placenta is attached to the uterine wall with those weird finger-like things that we talked about earlier. However, just because it is attached, doesn’t mean it can’t wander. Generally speaking, the placenta likes to migrate around the womb during the 9 month pregnancy period.
The placenta is strategic about these moves - it doesn’t just take a stroll without a purpose. Rather, it becomes most active during the third trimester, when things are heating up for delivery. The placenta will typically move into the upper part of the uterus, even if it has been low-lying for the first stages of pregnancy. This is so that it moves safely out of the baby’s way and gives plenty of space for baby to be born first. The last thing anyone wouldn’t want is birthing a placenta first!
Given just how much hard work the placenta is doing while the baby is growing, it deserves a lot of respect. This means that it needs to be looked after and taken care of so that it can take care of the baby in return.
The most important thing you can do as a mom is put the right stuff in the placenta. After all, the placenta is filtering through all of your food, drink, and lifestyle and deciding what is safe and beneficial to pass on to the baby through the bloodstream. This means that any alcohol and drugs are a big no-no from the placenta. Since it can’t filter everything quick enough, some of these nasty toxins can get through and harm the baby. Similarly, a healthy lifestyle will mean a healthy placenta. Obesity and poor nutrition make it really hard for the placenta to do all the important work it needs to do, so do your part and make things easier for it!
Sources: Bellybelly.com, Mentalfloss.com, Whattoexpect.com, Mayoclinic.com