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The Role Of Placenta In Fetal Growth

By Subodini Menon

When the baby grows in your womb, there are 3 main things that act as a life support for your fetus namely - the placenta, the amniotic sac (which is filled with the amniotic fluid) and the umbilical cord that connects the two. The disruption or damage to any of these parts can prove to be fatal for your unborn baby.

The Placenta

The placenta serves as a medium that helps in extracting nutrition from the mother and providing it to the growing fetus. It is a disc shaped or pancake shaped fleshy organ that is attached to the walls of the uterus. It is then connected to the fetus by the means of an umbilical cord.

The functions of the placenta are many. From the transport of nutrition to the fetus - to the production of the hormones like hCG, progesterone and estrogen, the placenta plays a very important part in the growth of your baby when still inside your womb.

When the baby is born, this placenta is expelled by the body in a process which is known as the after-birth.

Today, we shall talk about the various functions of the placenta. We shall also take a look at the problems that arise due to the placental defects or anomalies. So, read on to know more.

Facts That You Should Know About The Placenta

Placenta Does Not Have Any Nerves Or Nerve Cells

The placenta has no nerve cells to call its own. It is not connected to the nervous system of the mother or baby. Due to this reason, all the functions performed by the placenta are independent of any control of the brain and the spinal cord.

Placenta Sees An Immense Amount Of Blood Transport

It is said that while the placenta exchanges nutrition from the mother to the baby, more than 568 mL of blood is pumped into the placenta every minute.

Placenta Contributes In The Breakdown Of Food

It is commonly believed that the food that the mother eats is directly transported to the baby. Contrary to the popular belief, the food is first digested in the digestive system of the mother. The nutrition is then transported to the placenta via blood vessels. The placenta then breaks the food down into nutrients and protein that is capable of crossing the placental barrier.

The Baby Does Not Breathe In The Amniotic Fluid

Another common belief is that a baby breaths in the amniotic fluid to receive oxygen in a method similar to the fish breathing through its gills. This is just a misconception. It is true that the baby may inhale or swallow amniotic fluid when in the womb. This helps in familiarizing the baby with breathing when it is born; but it is not how the baby receives oxygen. Oxygen is received by the baby through the blood circulation passed through the placenta.

Functions Of The Placenta


Placenta Acts As A Transport Mechanism

The placenta helps transport nutrition from the mother's body into the fetus. The blood first passes through the placenta, then enters the umbilical cord and then enters the baby's body.


It Acts As A Filter

The baby's kidneys and the urinary system are still very immature. Under these circumstances, the placenta acts like a filter or a kidney. It filters the blood and separates the toxins and the other harmful substances and sends it out to be excreted by the mother's urinary and excretory system.


Placenta Acts Like The Lungs

Like the kidneys, the baby's lungs are immature too. It only starts breathing once the baby is born. During the baby's time in the uterus, the placenta acts like the lungs and helps in the transmission of oxygen.


The Placenta Helps In The Baby’s Excretion

Even while in the uterus, the baby produces bio-wastes. This bio-waste is brought back to the mother's body to be excreted by the placenta.


Placenta Helps In The Prevention Of Infection

The placenta prevents the mixing of the mother's blood with that of the baby's. This process helps in keeping many infections from affecting the baby's body.


It Regulates The Blood Sugar Of The Baby

The placenta produces many hormones that keep the placental lactose in check. It helps in ensuring that your body has enough blood sugar and that it is effectively transported to your baby when necessary.


It Acts As A Digestive Unit

The food that you eat first passes through your digestive system. But the food particles are still not simple to be used by your baby. The placenta breaks it down further to help it reach the baby faster and in an effective way.


The Placenta Produces Estrogen And Progesterone

The placenta produces progesterone and estrogen. These hormones help in the development of the maternal tissues like the breast and the uterus. It also helps in stopping or starting contraction as the case may be.


The Movement Of The Placenta

The placenta is usually low lying when the pregnancy starts. This position is beneficial for the growth of the baby. Later, when the delivery comes near, the placenta moves to the top of the womb. This movement is facilitated by the expansion of the womb. This way, the cervix is kept open in the preparation for delivery.


Things That Can Affect The Placenta

The placenta is a delicate organ. There are many things that can cause problems to the placenta.

  • Trauma in the abdominal area
  • A fall or a blow to the abdomen of the pregnant mother can disrupt or damage the placenta.

    • Problems in the clotting of blood
    • If the mother has a disease or an issue that can cause trouble in the clotting of the blood, it can affect the proper functioning of the placenta.

      • High blood pressure
      • The mother having high blood pressure can cause the placenta to have an impaired function.

        • An older age of the mother
        • The older the mother, the more the chance that the placenta may malfunction.

          • Pregnancy of twins or more babies
          • If the mother is pregnant with multiple babies, the placenta may be weak and may not function properly.

            • Membrane rupture that occurs premature
            • If the amniotic sac membrane is ruptured before its time, the placenta may be week.

              • History of placental issues in the family
              • If the mother has a history of placental issue in her mother's or father's family, or if she has had a placental issue in a previous pregnancy, she is at a risk for placental issues in the present pregnancy too.

                • Any surgeries on the uterus
                • If the mother has underwent any kind of a surgery on the uterus prior to this pregnancy, she may have placental issues now.

                  • Substance abuse
                  • If the mother is an addict to any harmful substances like alcohol, smoking or drugs, the placenta may be weak and may malfunction.

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Story first published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 19:30 [IST]