Get To Know This Amazing Organ

You know you have a placenta, but do you know all of the amazing things it does for your baby? Find out what it is, how it works, how it may affect your pregnancy and birth, and even why some moms encapsulate it to ahem, ingest, after birth.

Pregnant woman

Why the placenta is phenomenal

"The placenta is an essential organ during pregnancy," explains Jacque Shannon-McNulty, CPM, LM. "A healthy placenta means plenty of oxygen and nutrients get through to the baby, creating the optimal system for healthy growth and development."

How it works

Shannon-McNulty explains, "One side, the maternal side, is attached to the mother's uterus. The other side, the fetal side, has your baby's umbilical cord which attaches to your baby's abdomen, then from the edges of the placenta grows your amniotic sac or bag of waters — what your baby grows in during your pregnancy."

Looking at a placenta may not be at the top of your to-do list, but if you get the chance to see one, you'll be amazed. The veiny, fetal side resembles a "tree of life" as the placenta is sometimes called — it's literally your baby's life line for the nine months she's in utero.

Learn more about the purpose of the placenta>>

How to help your placenta stay healthy

Many pregnant moms have those days when a greasy cheeseburger wins out over organic tofu for lunch. It's OK once in a while, but the healthier you are, the healthier your placenta — and baby — will be.

"A healthy placenta means plenty of oxygen and nutrients get through to the baby, creating the optimal system for healthy growth and development. Excellent nutrition with plenty of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables, avoiding smoking, alcohol and drugs create a good, strong, healthy placenta to nourish your growing baby," Shannon-McNulty says.

Placenta issues you need to know about

Placenta previa is a condition when the placenta covers the cervix. An ultrasound can show your doctor or midwife where your placenta is, and hopefully it will move into place before labor day. If not, you will need a C-section to avoid risks to your baby during delivery.

Placenta accreta — a placenta implanted abnormally in the uterus — can cause difficulty detaching from the uterus immediately after childbirth. Shannon-McNulty explains, "This puts the mother at risk of a serious postpartum hemorrhage. A manual removal of the placenta, or a postpartum surgical removal of the placenta, is performed to remove the placenta and help stop the mother's bleeding."

If you experience bleeding at any time during your pregnancy, check with your healthcare provider to rule out any issues with your placenta.

Swallowing placenta pills — seriously?

OK, so placenta encapsulation isn't the same as eating placenta stew, but does this trend work? Shannon-McNulty says, "There is a good body of scientific evidence that has found that mothers who take their placenta capsules have less postpartum depression, increased breast milk production and faster recovery from birth. Placenta encapsulation is a simple, accessible way to enjoy the benefits of consuming your placenta, without the 'ick' factor."

Eating your placenta — nutritious or gag worthy? >>

Bottom line? Take care of yourself, be cautious of what not to eat or drink during pregnancy and you'll help your placenta stay phenomenal.

Read more about the placenta

The first trimester — a guide to your baby's development
Why Mad Men star January Jones took placenta pills after birthing her son
5 Surprising things you can do with your placenta

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