I can be hard to grasp all the ins and outs of the birth process. A common question is, “Why doesn’t the baby need the placenta after birth?” I’ve got your answer 🙂
What Is The Placenta?
The placenta is an organ that forms during pregnancy and nourishes your baby through the umbilical cord.
The placenta has 2 sides. The side that attaches to mom’s uterus is red and fleshy. The side that faces your baby is covered by the amniotic sac, which gives it a shiny, gray appearance.
Where Is The Placenta Located?
The placenta begins developing at the site where the embryo attaches to the uterine wall. It continues to grow in size until 20 weeks, at which point it covers about half of the internal surface of your uterus. It’s a big ole organ! The placenta is typically located up at the top of the uterus — an area known as the fundus.
What Does The Placenta Do?
Within just 17 days of conception, the placenta is in charge of exchanging oxygen and nutrients between you and your baby. While the lungs are slowly developing, the placenta steps in and helps out. When you breathe in oxygen, the placenta supplies that oxygen-rich blood to your baby via the umbilical cord. It then helps push baby’s carbon dioxide waste back into your blood stream for removal.
Oxygen is not the only thing that crosses the placenta. It also helps supply your baby with water, electrolytes, and the glucose that gives your little one energy to grow.
The placenta does a few other cool tricks too, like producing fatty acids, cholesterol, and hormones that are vital to the survival of your baby. For example, after the 11th week of pregnancy, the placenta is primarily responsible for producing enough progesterone and estrogen to maintain the pregnancy.
The Placenta and Childbirth
During childbirth, the most important role of the placenta and umbilical cord is to supply the baby with oxygen. Any disruption of blood flow (placenta abruption, knots in the umbilical cord, etc.) can starve the baby of oxygen and result in harm.
The baby leaves the uterus first, followed shortly by the placenta. In a hospital setting, the placenta is usually expelled from the uterus within 15 minutes of baby’s birth.
Why Doesn’t The Baby Need The Placenta After Birth?
After all of that build up, it’s finally time to answer our question! Why doesn’t the baby need the placenta after birth?
As baby is born, a series of mechanical, chemical, and sensory changes result in a miraculous gasp of air — the first breath of life! The lungs open and air enters, and blood begins to flow from the heart to the lungs as well. Baby can now intake and exchange oxygen on his own.
The other functions of the placenta are replaced as well. The liver releases stores of glucose to sustain baby until your breastmilk becomes the primary source of nutrition. Intestinal and pancreatic enzymes digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The placenta is now clamped, cut, and removed. All that is left of that once-vital organ is a little stub that will soon become the belly button.
Your baby is an independent person now, thus after birth the placenta is no longer needed. So whether you decide to eat it in a smoothie, bury it under a tree, or throw it out; let’s all give a brief moment of silence and a big “thank you” to the placenta!
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Ladewig, P. W., London, M., Davidson, R. (2006). Contemporary Maternal-Newborn Nursing Care. 6th Edition. Pearson Education Inc, Upper Saddle River, NJ.