If you're pregnant, you might wonder what the placenta does and what factors can affect it. Get the facts about this important organ that joins the mother and baby.
The placenta is an organ that develops in your uterus during pregnancy. This structure provides oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby and removes waste products from your baby's blood. The placenta attaches to the wall of your uterus, and your baby's umbilical cord arises from it. The organ is usually attached to the top, side, front or back of the uterus. In rare cases, the placenta might attach in the lower area of the uterus. When this happens, it's called a low-lying placenta (placenta previa).
Various factors can affect the health of the placenta during pregnancy, with some under your control and some not. For example:
During pregnancy, possible placental problems include placental abruption, placenta previa and placenta accreta. These conditions can cause potentially heavy vaginal bleeding. After delivery, retained placenta is sometimes a concern. Here's what you need to know about these conditions:
Placenta previa. This condition occurs when the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix — the outlet for the uterus. Placenta previa is more common early in pregnancy and might resolve as the uterus grows.
Placenta previa can cause severe vaginal bleeding during pregnancy or delivery. The management of this condition depends on the amount of bleeding, whether the bleeding stops, how far along your pregnancy is, the position of the placenta, and your and your baby's health. If placenta previa persists late in the third trimester, your health care provider will recommend a C-section.
Placenta accreta. Typically, the placenta detaches from the uterine wall after childbirth. With placenta accreta, part or all of the placenta remains firmly attached to the uterus. This condition occurs when the blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. This can cause severe blood loss during delivery.
In aggressive cases, the placenta invades the muscles of the uterus or grows through the uterine wall. Your health care provider will likely recommend a C-section followed by removal of your uterus.
The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. Placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before birth. Placental abruption can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients and cause heavy bleeding in the mother. In some cases, early delivery is needed.
The placenta is a structure that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. In most pregnancies, the placenta is located at the top or side of the uterus. In placenta previa, the placenta is located low in the uterus. The placenta might partially or completely cover the cervix, as shown here. Placenta previa can cause severe bleeding in the mother before or during delivery. A C-section delivery might be required.
Consult your health care provider during pregnancy if you have:
Most placental problems can't be directly prevented. However, you can take steps to promote a healthy pregnancy:
If you've had a placental problem during a previous pregnancy and are planning another pregnancy, talk to your health care provider about ways to reduce the risk of experiencing the condition again. Also tell your health care provider if you've had surgery on your uterus in the past. Expect your health care provider to monitor your condition closely throughout the pregnancy.
If you deliver your baby vaginally, you'll also deliver the placenta vaginally — during what's known as the third stage of labor.
After you give birth, you'll continue to have mild contractions. Your health care provider might give you a medication called oxytocin (Pitocin) to continue uterine contractions and reduce postpartum bleeding. Your health care provider might also massage your lower abdomen to encourage your uterus to contract and expel the placenta. You might be asked to push one more time to deliver the placenta.
If you have a C-section, your health care provider will remove the placenta from your uterus during the procedure.
Your health care provider will examine the placenta to make sure it's intact. Any remaining fragments must be removed from the uterus to prevent bleeding and infection. If you're interested, ask to see the placenta. In some cultures, families bury the placenta in a special place, such as their backyards.
If you have questions about the placenta or placental problems during pregnancy, talk to your health care provider. He or she can help you better understand the placenta's role during your pregnancy.