What Is A Placenta? 10 Amazing Placenta Facts

What Is A Placenta? 10 Amazing Placenta Facts

Every mother is likely aware that a placenta goes hand in hand with pregnancy.

Even if you don’t know much about what a placenta does, you likely understand that a placenta plays a pretty important role for the baby, since it’s right there as a womb buddy with the developing baby!

But do you know what a placenta really is or how amazing they are?

What Is a Placenta?

When you first conceive, the swiftly multiplying cells become your baby and its placenta. The placenta is the lifeline to your baby. It provides the nutrition, oxygen and fluids your baby needs.

Your blood flows to the placenta, where nutrients and oxygen are exchanged. However, your blood and the baby’s blood are not mixed, because you both have your own circulatory systems. Amazingly, the umbilical cord carries the nutrients from the placenta directly into the baby’s blood stream. What an amazing organ!

Here are 10 amazing facts about the placenta:

#1: The Placenta Acts As a Gland

Have you ever wondered how you can feel incredibly hormonal and not yourself at just one month pregnant? After all, your baby is only the size of a poppy seed. How on earth can this little one already impact how you feel?

The placenta acts as a gland to secrete the all important hormones that are necessary to grow your baby, as well as prepare for breastfeeding. Some of the hormones secreted by the placenta include:

  • Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG): The pregnancy hormone hCG stimulates the production of estrogen and progesterone until around 10 weeks, when the placenta takes over secreting those hormones. The hCG levels continue to rise and then peak around towards the end of the first trimester. They then level off and remain steady until the end of pregnancy. The hormone hCG is also associated with morning sickness, which is why it tends to lessen for many after the first trimester.
  • Estrogen: The production of estrogen increases blood flow and stimulates uterine growth, both necessary to meet the needs of a growing baby. It also stimulates the growth of breast tissue in preparation for breastfeeding.
  • Progesterone: The production of progesterone helps to maintain the uterine lining necessary for implantation and supporting a pregnancy. Progesterone helps to keep a hospitable environment for your growing baby.
  • Human Placental Lactogen: This hormone is responsible for speeding up mama’s metabolism. Growing a baby takes a lot of energy! It also aids in preparing your body for breastfeeding.

#2: The Placenta Delivers Baby’s Nutrition

The food you eat does not directly go to your baby (yes, eating for two is indeed a myth!). When you eat, your body breaks down food and the proteins enter your blood stream. During pregnancy, the nutrition in your blood stream is passed via the placenta and umbilical cord into baby’s blood stream.

This is why it’s important for a pregnant mother-to-be to have a nutritious diet. Unfortunately, your baby wont benefit from all those bowls of ice-cream! However eating too much can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, which is unfortunately on the increase.

#3: The Placenta Works Incredibly Hard Exchanging Blood

During every minute of your pregnancy, an entire pint (almost 500 ml) of blood is sent to the uterus to exchange nutrients via the placenta. Even when you’re resting, your placenta is working hard. Perhaps that explains some of the pregnancy fatigue!

#4: The Placenta ‘Breathes’ For Your Baby

Though your baby’s lungs are developing and are often fully developed before birth, your placenta provides 100% of baby’s oxygen needs. Just as your body provides oxygen to all of your organs and tissues via the blood stream, your body sends oxygen to your baby. So when you breathe, you’re breathing for baby too. More of a reason to take nice, deep breaths!

The baby does swallow and inhale amniotic fluid while in-utero, but baby is not receiving oxygen when inhaling the amniotic fluid. The placenta passes the necessary oxygen to baby’s umbilical cord to be passed into baby’s blood stream. It seems there isn’t anything the placenta can’t do for baby!

#5: The Placenta Is Part Mama And Part Dad

When a sperm fertilizes the egg, the cells begin to quickly multiple. The egg and sperm become a blastocyst. The blastocyst becomes the placenta and the baby.

It’s very easy to think of the placenta as a mother’s organ, but it’s actually created from both parents. The process of pregnancy is an amazing thing. One sperm, one egg and you have everything necessary to grow and nourish a human!

#6: The Placenta Provides Some Immunity and Infection Protection

In some situations, the placenta can help protect the baby from infections while in the womb. If the mother has a bacterial infection, the placenta helps to protect the baby from it.

In some cases of serious viral infections, the placenta might not offer protection. However, good prenatal care, and healthy habits and hygiene can help your medical providers to keep both you and baby healthy.

Before the birth, baby receives antibodies via the placenta. The antibodies help provide immune system protection for baby’s early months of life. After these early months, a breastfed baby continues to receive mama’s antibodies via breast milk.

#7: The Placenta Functions Without Direct Control From The Nervous System

The amazing placenta, developed from just a sperm and egg, functions without the direct control of the nervous system. The placenta does not contain any nerve cells, so it cannot be under the direct control of the brain or spinal cord. The placenta develops and functions without being connected to your brain — how amazing!

#8: The Placenta Is The Only Disposable Organ

Sure, we have some organs that we can survive without, but the placenta is the only one made to be disposable. The placenta develops with the baby and is designed to naturally expel after the baby is born. It is created for a single purpose, so it serves its purpose and then leaves the body.

Every healthy pregnancy develops with a new placenta, perfectly paired to nourish a new baby.

#9: When The Placenta Leaves, The Milk Starts

While it might not be the placenta itself creating a new mother’s breast milk, it does have a role. When the placenta has separated, it triggers the production of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone responsible for milk production.

#10: The Placenta Can Become A Supplement

While the jury is still out in the Western birth world, many find placenta encapsulation very beneficial. Placentophagy (eating a placenta) has been used, on record, as far back as the 1500s in traditional Chinese medicine.

There may not be large scale studies proving the benefits of placentophagy, but many sources and mama’s cite benefits such as:

  • Balancing postnatal hormones
  • An increase in energy levels
  • Replenishment of iron stores
  • Reduced postnatal bleeding
  • An increase in milk supply
  • More overall satisfaction during the postnatal period

Placenta encapsulation is something many expectant mamas look into as an option to help the transition during the postnatal period.

Pregnancy is an amazing process filled with miraculous detail. The placenta is one part of this wondrous experience. As you can see, it provides everything your baby needs, and can even provide for some of your postnatal needs.

Let’s be sure we appreciate all of the incredible things this normally under-appreciated organ does!

Last Updated: June 25, 2015


Maria Silver Pyanov is the mom of four energetic boys, a doula, and a childbirth educator. She is an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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