• Childbirth Basics: Everything You Need to Know About the Placenta

    Our expert answers questions you may have about your unborn baby's lifeline inside your womb.
    by Rachel Perez .
  • Childbirth Basics: Everything You Need to Know About the Placenta
    IMAGE Flickr Creative Commons/AJCI
  • The placenta is your baby's source of nutrients and helps your baby get oxygen from your blood. It helps gets rid of waste like carbon dioxide and performs functions that your unborn baby isn't able to do yet. It also acts as a barrier to protect your baby from bacteria and viruses you might have caught while pregnant. Needless to say, the placenta is vital to your pregnancy and your baby's health. 

    Sometimes, however, it could also cause pregnancy complications. These include placenta abruptia (rupture of the placenta), placenta accreta (when it plants itself too deeply in your uterus), and placenta previa (when it's too close or blocks your cervix) -- all of which could all lead to severe bleeding. Maternal age, family history, and certain conditions such as hypertension or smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be factors to these complications. But your routine prenatal checkups should help you and your doctor monitor your placenta.

    That said, come D-day, have you ever wondered what happens when doctors talk about "birthing the placenta"? 

    According to Claudette Mendiola, M.D., obstetrician-gynecologist at De Los Santos Medical Center in Quezon City, the placenta will detach from your uterus within five to 30 minutes of vaginal childbirth. When the placenta separates from your uterus, doctors watch our for "a sudden gush of blood, lengthening of the umbilical cord, and firmer, more globular fundus of the uterus on palpation," Dr. Mendiola told SmartParenting.com.ph via email. 

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    "Watchful waiting is usually done at this point," she added. There are cases where the mother is asked to bear down a little to help birth the placenta. Sometimes with a little help from the doctors, "by alternating compression and elevation of the fundus (upper part of the stomach) while exerting very minimal traction to the umbilical cord," Dr. Mendiola explains.

    Breastfeeding your baby immediately after birth also helps your uterus contract and deliver the placenta, according to U.K.'s National Health Service.

    As for C-section deliveries, the placenta is delivered by manual removal. In both cases, however, doctors do a routine inspection of the mother's uterus to check and remove any portions of the placenta that may be left inside the uterus. They also inspect the placenta for missing lobes. "The most common complication after delivering the placenta is when it has an extra lobe, which might be left inside the uterus," Dr. Mendiola said. 

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    A big red flag is postpartum bleeding, which could mean that you may have remaining parts of the placenta in your uterus, among other things. It could happen immediately after birth or later after the delivery. Dr. Mendiola warns new moms to immediately inform their doctor if she experiences "any bleeding more than her usual menses after her discharge in the hospital."

    What happens to the placenta after birth? Usually, hospitals dispose of it if there is no need to conduct tests for complicated pregnancies. Some hospitals allow the mother to take the placenta home to do what they wish. In countries such as New Zealand, Cambodia, and Costa Rica, parents bury the placenta to protect their baby and form a bond between the baby and the earth. 

    You may have heard that some moms eat the placenta, which is common in some cultures like the Chinese. Eating it as a shake or in pill form has been getting more popular today, and so does making placenta art as keepsakes. Dr. Mendiola says there are very limited studies to prove the benefits of eating the placenta, adding "it's generally not recommended that you do so." Like your birth plan choices, however, what you may want to do with your placenta after birth entirely up to you. 

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