What Are the Functions of Placenta?

During pregnancy, many new moms wonder about the function of placenta, and its role in providing your baby what he or she needs to grow. In early pregnancy, the placenta grows from both the uterus and a tiny amount of fetal tissue. It forms a flat-round organ that attaches to the uterine wall. It is connected to the umbilical cord and your baby. This article explains what the placenta does, some complications that can occur with the placenta, and things to watch out for.

What Are the Functions of Placenta?

When you become pregnant, you actually grow this organ just to supply your baby with everything he or she needs. It is an essential organ to pregnancy and your baby’s health in utero depends on a healthy placenta. Your placenta will stretch with your uterus as your baby grows, and may even migrate around some.

About 15 to 20 minutes after your baby is born, you will deliver the placenta. The doctor may give you a little medicine to make your uterus contract, and give a little tug on the umbilical cord. Most often, they just deliver on their own while you are holding baby. The hospital will send it to the lab to check for any abnormalities.

Here are some of the main things related to the what the placenta does:

  1. 1. Oxygen Exchange

The first and most important function of placenta is delivering oxygen to your baby, and removing carbon dioxide from used oxygen. Since your baby does not breathe yet, the placenta does this work. You breathe, and the oxygen you take in goes to the placenta through your blood. The placenta extracts the oxygen and puts in into your baby’s blood. After it is used, the blood is passed back through the placenta where the carbon dioxide is filtered out and sent back into your blood to be removed. This is known as, “gas exchange.”

  1. 2. Nourishment

Another big job the placenta has is to feed your growing baby. As your blood is filtered into the placenta, nutrients are extracted out and sent into the baby’s bloodstream. They will be getting everything they need ranging from; fats, to glucose, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It also provides the baby with fluids. Fluids are used both to hydrate your baby and to make amniotic fluid.

  1. 3. Waste Removal

Babies don’t have bowel movements so any waste products from baby’s blood go back through the placenta for you to process out of your body. However, your baby’s kidneys do make urine and this is expelled into your uterus in the form of amniotic fluid. This is also filtered out through baby’s kidneys and blood. Any waste from amniotic fluid is sent back through the placenta.

  1. 4. Hormone Production

The placenta is responsible for producing hormones to maintain the actual pregnancy. Here is the list of hormones it produces and what they do:

  • Lactogen (Increases glucose in your blood to nourish baby)
  • Estrogen/Progesterone (Prevents the uterus from contracting)
  • Placental Growth Hormone (Increases the growth of the placenta to distribute more nutrients as the baby grows)
  1. 5. Immunity

The placenta helps protect your baby from infection. You produce antibodies to illness and pass them through the placenta to your baby. This is known as, passive immunity. You can rest assured that your baby won’t catch things like; colds, influenza, sinus or ear infections. However, some communicable diseases may still affect your baby. These include; measles, chickenpox, and whooping cough. If you are fully immunized, this will protect your baby even further.

Complications That Can Affect The Placenta

There are a few complications that can affect the function of placenta. While it is a sturdy organ, the few things that can happen include:

Placental Insufficiency

There are cases where the placenta is unable to provide all the needed oxygen and nutrients to the baby. It can cause your baby to be smaller than expected. This usually happens due to health conditions like; hypertension, smoking, kidney disease, and diabetes. Doctors will watch your baby’s growth, and possibly induce labor early.

Placenta Previa

Early in pregnancy, the placenta can grow in the bottom half of the uterus near the cervix. This condition is known as, placenta previa. It can cause bleeding and cramping in the second to last trimester. If it is a mild or “marginal” case it does not actually cover the cervix and may creep up as the uterus stretches upward. In partial cases, it may cover some of the cervical opening, and complete placenta previa can cover the entire cervix. Doctors monitor this with ultrasounds and if the placenta does not migrate up off the cervix, a cesarean delivery may be necessary.

Placenta Accreta

Sometimes the placenta can grow to deep in the wall of the uterus. It usually occurs in moms who have had cesarean deliveries in the past. This may cause severe bleeding before, during, and after delivery. Delivery is usually by cesarean section, and bleeding will be watched after your baby is born. There is a slight chance of hysterectomy if bleeding is too severe.

Placental Abruption

This is the most serious complication that can happen with the placenta and is a medical emergency. The placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus, and cuts off the blood supply to the baby. It can also cause a severe hemorrhage in the mother. If the pregnancy has progressed to the late second trimester or third trimester, the baby will be delivered by an emergency c-section.

There are certain risk factors for problems with the placenta including:

  • High Blood Pressure/Preeclampsia
  • Falls or Trauma
  • Multiple Cesarean Section Deliveries
  • Multiple Uterine Surgeries
  • Using Street Drugs
  • Blood Clotting Disorders
  • Advanced Maternal Age

Things To Watch Out For

If there is a problem with how your placenta is working, there are some things to watch for. If you experience any of these signs, contact your doctor, go to the nearest hospital, or call 9-1-1:

  • Severe Bleeding from Vagina
  • Severe Pelvic Pain
  • Dizziness
  • Decrease in Baby’s Movements
  • Rupture of Membranes (Water Breaking) with Bleeding
  • Strong Contractions Prematurely (prior to 37 weeks)
  • Racing Heartbeats

In most cases of issues with the function of placenta can be monitored by your doctor. There is a chance that if issues continue, you may be put on bedrest to prevent complications. There is also a rare chance for early delivery. 

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