The Placenta – Know Everything About The Uterine Cake!

Once you are pregnant, your little one starts growing and forms a mass of cells. Eventually, cells of this mass grow into an embryo (which is your baby), and some cells will grow into the placenta (as it has the same origin as your baby, this explains why some cultures call it as the baby’s “twin”).

The word placenta comes from the Latin word, meaning a type of cake.

What is the structure of the placenta?

Human beings have a chorioallantoic placenta, forming both the chorion and the allantois. The size of the placenta is approximately 2–2.5 cm (0.8–1 inch) in thickness and 22 cm (9 inches) in length. It is flat shaped (like a flat cake) with being thickest in the center and thinnest at the edges. It weighs around 500 grams and is dark reddish-blue or crimson in color.

So, what does the placenta do?

The placenta is an organ that forms in your uterus and assists your pregnancy. It helps in providing oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby along with removing waste products from the baby’s blood. The placenta attaches to the wall of the mother’s uterus (through finger-like projections) and at the other end, the umbilical cord (line-line of the baby) arises.

Generally, the placental organ is attached to the top,  front, side, or back of the uterus. In rare cases, when the placenta attaches to the lower uterine region it may prove harmful and is known as placenta previa.


What are the conditions that may be harmful to the placenta?

There are various factors that affect the health of the placenta. The factors mentioned below can prove harmful to the placenta. These include:

  • The mother’s age: placental problems occur more commonly in older women, especially after age 40 (where it is termed as “advanced maternal age”)
  • Previous placental problems: Issues in your previous pregnancy
  • Premature rupture of the membrane: if the amniotic sac leaks/breaks before starting of labor, it increases the risks of few placental problems
  • Abdominal trauma. Trauma to your abdomen (fall or blow) may cause the placenta to separate from the uterus prematurely (placental abruption)
  • Previous uterine surgery.  such as a surgery to remove fibroids, C-section etc.
  • Substance misuse: smoking or use illegal drugs during pregnancy can lead to placental problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Twin or other multiple pregnancies
  • Blood-clotting disorders

How is the placenta delivered?

If you have a normal delivery (vaginally), the placenta will also be delivered vaginally — this is known as placental expulsion and is seen in the third stage of labor. After the birth of the baby, there will be a continuation of mild contractions and this delivers your placenta (hence it is also known as after birth).

In some cases, massage of the abdomen (along with the mother’s pushing) helps with the uterine contraction to expel the placenta in whole. Medications may be needed in some cases to reduce postpartum bleeding. If there was a C-section, the placenta will be removed from your uterus during the procedure.

The placenta is then examined by your doctor to make sure it is intact (as remaining fragments causes uterine bleeding and infection).  If any fragments are left, this is either manually removed by the doctor and if that fails medication or surgical treatment to expel the remnants is done.

What can be done with your placenta?

Some women choose to:

  • placental preservation (as it is a source of mesenchymal stem cells)
  • keep the placenta
  • bury it
  • burn it
  • dry it out and take it as a supplement

Some people claim that that eating the placenta (placentophagy) increases youthfulness and also helps with postpartum depression.





Dr. Aishwarya Rajeev has completed her MDS degree and is currently pursuing her PhD. She is an avid reader and loves to teach and write!

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