What is the placenta?

The placenta, every pregnant woman hears about it throughout her pregnancy, does not always know exactly what this organ is. “The placenta is a kind of cakewhich is formed at the same time as the embryo and the fetus and whose cells also comprise the same genetic material than the baby itself, says Dr. Cyril Huissoud, obstetrician-gynecologist and head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the HFME in Lyon. Indispensable too exchange between mother and child (between mother and child), it only occurs during pregnancy. The placenta is one of the few organs with such a short lifespan: only 9 months at the end of which he ages and is eventually deported… But he still keeps certain secrets,” confides the doctor.

What is it made of?

A diaphragm? fabrics ? What is this perishable organ made of? “One could roughly make the analogy of the placenta a large vascular spongecomposed of placental villi, called choir villas”, defines the specialist. These villi are the seat of many blood vessels. “To give an order of magnitude, if we lined them up, all of these vessels would reach about twenty kilometers! , with the umbilical cord at its center, whose branches are on the surface and in the depths of the placenta,” he continues. And all this without the blood of mother and child ever mixing. Unbelievable, right?

How heavy is the placenta?

In symbiosis with the fetus, the placenta develops throughout pregnancy to weigh itself 25 to 30% the total weight of the child.

What is the placenta for and what role does it play during pregnancy?

The organ that grows proportionally to the fetus during pregnancy has pmultiple roles important for the proper growth of babies. “It may be an ugly organ, the gynecologist laughs, but it is essential for the pregnancy and the pregnant child.”

Constant exchange between the woman and the fetus

First and foremost, the placenta is the interface that makes it possible exchange between mother and childbetween the mother and her fetus: water and nutrient exchangeof course, so that the baby gets everything he needs, but also gas exchange through the blood, which is essential for the fetus to breathe.

An endocrine role: the production of hormones

Among the active functions of the placenta is its role as hormone producer : From conception, it is also the trophoblast, then the placenta, that secretes the hormones essential for the proper development of the pregnancy and the baby.

The placental barrier and its role as a filter

The placenta is also important for the baby because it plays a filter roll which develops over the months to protect the baby from everything he should not touch: Drugs, insulin, parasites such as toxoplasmosis, infectious agents (viruses). “But this filter develops between the 1st and 3rd trimester of pregnancy,” specifies the obstetrician. He is very tight in early pregnancywhen the risks to the fetus are greatest and less severe at the end of the pregnancy. The baby therefore has a greater chance of contracting something like toxoplasmosis… Fortunately, the consequences are also less severe in the last trimester,” he confirms.

What can be abnormalities of the placenta?

Abnormalities related to the placenta are not very common, but they can change the course of the pregnancy or the planned birth.

placental abruption

placental abruption hematoma retroplacental, which corresponds to a loss of adhesion of part of the placenta. There are different types: in the first trimester we speak of trophoblast detachment (the embryonic placenta). It is accompanied by bleeding and ask for silence. “In this early case, unfortunately, there is not much we can do other than recommend rest and hope that the detachment will go away on its own,” the doctor recalls. At the end of the pregnancy, however, an abortion is rarer but more serious “the placenta is everything around the embryo. Abortion puts the risk of total abortion of the placenta, complications, etc bleeding. In any case, in case of bleeding, it is better to consult your doctor quickly.

Placenta too low or inserted: when positioning is a problem

In some cases, the positioning of the placenta can also be a problem for vaginal delivery. With a too low placenta, that is cake for the time being it can affect output and cause bleeding during contractions. This is the case with placenta accreta inserted into the uterine muscle. He also usually asks for a cesarean section for delivery.


The appearance of apre-eclampsia is also associated with placental dysfunction beyond the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, leading to increased blood pressure maternal.

What happens to the placenta after birth?

A story of liberation

At the end of pregnancy, at 9 months, the placenta also finishes its course: it is expelled from the body the mother, alone or with help, after the birth of the baby in what is called delivery. The entire placenta, childbirth, must be evacuated, otherwise bleeding or hemorrhage may occur if fragments remain in the uterus, this is called a retained placenta. But rest assured: Examination of the placenta by the midwife or the doctor takes place systematically at the end of the birth. The problem, if any, is then resolved within minutes of delivery.

can you eat your placenta

If the trend is followed in the United States, for its virtues in vitamins, minerals and hormones, and a desire to return to nature, there is no doubt about it placentophagy (eating the placenta) is not well known in France. Restoration of the placenta, like any product of the human body, is in fact prohibited by law Bioethics (source 2), published in 1994 and revised in 2011, stipulates that the placenta may only be removed for therapeutic or scientific purposes if the woman giving birth has not objected. “In addition, there is still no really proven healing power,” concludes the expert.

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