Inside your baby’s world
Resembling a thick pancake or round cut of steak, the placenta temporarily forms in your womb/uterus.
WHAT IS IT?
This is the only organ the human body makes and then disposes of. It is the first organ to develop after conception, before any of your baby’s own. In most pregnancies, the placenta partially lines the top or side wall of the uterus. By full term at 40 weeks, the placenta should weigh about a sixth of the baby’s total weight.
It operates much like a train network, transporting nutrients, glucose, hormones and oxygen from mom’s bloodstream to baby’s. Tiny blood vessels carrying foetal blood run through the placenta, which is full of maternal blood, but the two blood supplies never mix, so your blood never mixes directly with baby’s.
Likewise, the placenta also acts as a disposal system, ridding the womb of your unborn baby’s carbon dioxide and wastes by transferring them to the mother’s blood supply, explains Dr Thandi Mtsi, a Gauteng obstetrician and gynaecologist.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PLACENTA AFTER BIRTH?
If the mother delivers vaginally, the placenta typically follows between five and 30 minutes later as part of the third stage of labour, or “afterbirth”, Dr Mtsi says. However, if it’s a caesarean section the surgeon will remove the placenta from the uterus during the procedure.
In Western communities, the placenta is usually removed during birth and burnt by the hospital or clinic. Some mothers, most commonly those of Nguni or traditional isiZulu (and Muslim) culture, have special rituals and beliefs about the placenta, notes Christine Klynhans of MidwivesExclusive in Pretoria. They’ll take the placenta home to bury, or burn pieces of it together with incense to communicate with ancestors.
“Many cultures attach spiritual meaning to the placenta, as the placenta gave baby life and was baby’s companion for nine months in the womb,” Christine explains. Other cultures use placenta for medicinal or nutritional purposes, drying it and put into capsules for the mother to swallow after birth. It’s growing in popularity around the world.
Scientists remain divided on the health benefits of eating the placenta, as there have been no conclusive studies showing the merits. However, advocates argue that eating the organ can counter the effects of postpartum depression, improve the quality of breastmilk, give energy and decrease insomnia. The great exchange of nutrients and waste between mom and baby happens in the umbilical cord, the so-called “lifeline” of pregnancy.
WHAT IS IT?
The umbilical cord is formed from the yolk sac, which provided nutrients to a growing embryo in the first weeks of pregnancy until the placenta had time to fully form, and the allantois (an embryonic tissue), which handles waste disposal. Typically, the umbilical cord is long enough so