What is the placenta?
I think we take it as a given that everybody knows what a placenta is. Its not true. I know many women who had no idea what it was until they were pregnant let alone that they they had to ‘birth’ it.
The placenta is an organ that is created when pregnant. It attaches itself to the uterus wall during your pregnancy. Its function is to keep mother and babies blood supply separate and to create a link between the two.
So exactly what does a placenta do?
For the functions that your unborn baby can’t do itself it does this for them passing oxygen and nutrients to the baby. The placenta passes waste back into the mother bloodstream to dispose of such as carbon dioxide.
Hormones are produced by the placenta that help your baby develop. It also helps baby be protected against most bacterias protecting against infection.
Any antibodies that a mother already has will be passed on to the baby towards the end of a pregnancy via the placenta. This gives baby immunity for around the first 3 months of their lives.
During pregnancy we are warned about the risks of drinking, taking drugs, not taking certain medication, avoiding too much caffeine. The reason for this is because these are all passed via the placenta to the baby.
So just how does the placenta make its entrance into the world?
During birth education you’ll often hear about the stages of labour. The third stage is when birthing the placenta takes place. Unlike birthing your baby the placenta tends to slide out in most cases but this doesn’t happened immediately. Being in an upright position should enable an easier delivery. Yep just like birth we don’t want to be lying flat on our back!
For a vaginal delivery the placenta can either be delivered physiological or managed (also known as active management). So of course if you haven’t birthed before this may mean nothing! So let me explain.
Physiological third stage
A physiological third stage is where we rely upon the body to birth our placenta. Just as it has the baby. The uterus contracts to birth the placenta when it has come away from the uterus wall. Like birth we need our oxytocin levels to be high for the uterus to work effectively to do this. So Mum & baby having lots of skin to skin & initiating feeding will really help.
The time a physiological third stage can take can vary but you can normally expect for it to take up to an hour. My personal experience with my second son was it took 50 minutes.
If a woman is low risk and has had a straightforward delivery with no intervention there wishes for this type of third stage should be supported.
Managed third stage
This is where your midwife will give you an injection in your thigh quite soon after birth. The drug administered will either be syntocinon or syntometrine. This encourages one big surge to encourage the placenta to come away quickly. With my first son I had this and it took 2 minutes after the injection was administered.
This type of delivery can be given even for the most straightforward birth if this is your wish. It is also encouraged if you’ve needed the hormone drip to speed up labour, have had a forceps or ventouse delivery. These types of interventions could mean your oxytocin levels aren’t as high as they need to be for the uterus to contract effectively.
How is the placenta delivered when you have a caesarean ?
Similar to a managed third stage for a vaginal delivery an injection will be administered to help the placenta come away. The Doctor performing the caesarean will gently tug on the umbilical cord to ensure its come away from the uterus wall before removing it.
What happens to the placenta after?
So once this amazing organ has been birthed the midwife will check that it is intact. This is to ensure it has all come out and the body hasn’t retained any.
If for any reason it has suffered any damage during the delivery or appears to have any abnormalities it will be send away for testing. This is to ensure that your baby isn’t at any risk. Its amazing what they can tell from the placenta.
If there are no concerns you can take your placenta away with you although you should refrigerate within 30 minutes of birth.
10 interesting facts about these amazing placentas…
- They are an organ
- The only organ created to be disposable
- Identical twins may or may not share a placenta
- Deliver the nutrition that babies need when in the womb
- They are an unborn babies oxygen supply acting as their lungs
- Made up of both Mum & Dad as the sperm is responsible for creating the placenta and umbilical cord
- Develops and functions without being connected to the brain as not connected to the nervous system
- Has its own endocrine system providing all the hormones for both Mum and baby throughout pregnancy.
- When the placenta separates after birth it triggers the prolcatin hormone which is the hormone needed for milk production
- They can be digested
Do you learn more about placentas with hypnobirthing?
Absolutely! As part of my hypnobirthing courses we talk about the third stage of labour. So that you can make an informed decision on how you birth your placenta. If how you choose to birth the placenta then has any affected on other choices you may wish to make such as delayed cord clamping.
Interested in Hypnobirthing and all that is included in a course?
I offer group courses in Twickenham and I teach private hypnobirthing courses in and around London. Including Barnes, Cobham, Hampton, Isleworth, Kew, Kingston, Richmond, St Margaret’s, Surbiton, Sunbury, Teddington, Twickenham, Walton, Whitton and surrounding areas.
Do you have a Pregnant Pal? I offer the £325 group course price for 2 or more couples but in the comfort of your own home.