In­side your baby’s world

Your Pregnancy - - Contents -

Re­sem­bling a thick pan­cake or round cut of steak, the pla­centa tem­po­rar­ily forms in your womb/uterus.


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.


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.


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

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