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What’s the placenta?

Have you heard Nicki Minaj's song "Super Freaky"? Well, Bria and I were recently talking about the placenta and all I can hear in my head is, "you can eat it, you can blend it, you can go ahead and freeze it..." I'm still working on it, but the point is you have options when it comes to your placenta! Let's take a look at the life of a placenta.

What is the placenta?

Honestly, the placenta is a fascinating organ both during pregnancy and afterwards. The placenta starts growing about 7-10 days after conception and takes over supporting your baby between 8-12 weeks pregnant. Since the placenta plays a large role in hormones, some research suggests that morning sickness is related to when the placenta fully takes over. Why? Because until then your body is taking on the role of supporting a growing baby and an organ, and that's a lot of work. The placenta also passes immunity to your baby.

The placenta has three layers:

  1. The innermost layer surrounds your baby (amniotic sac)

  2. The middle layer is where the blood vessels connect the placenta to umbilical cord

  3. The chorion, the outermost layer connects to the pregnant person

Where is the placenta placed in the uterus?

At your 20 week ultrasound, you may hear the ultrasound technician or your provider tell you about the placement of the placenta. Most commonly, it attaches to the side or top of the uterus but can sometimes attach to the front which is called an anterior placenta. An anterior placenta is a normal variation, but it means you will likely feel kicks later on in pregnancy. Your placenta ends up in 1 of 4 positions:

  1. Posterior: grows on the back wall of the uterus

  2. Anterior: grows on the front of the uterus

  3. Fundal: grows at the top

  4. Lateral: grows on the left or right side

Some people may also have a "low-lying" placenta which is known as placenta previa. This means that the placenta is covering part or all of your cervix; however, this condition can disappear in the third trimester because the placenta often moves slightly during pregnancy. If it doesn't move, then a c-section would be the safest way to birth your baby because the placenta is blocking baby's exit through the cervix, and if the placenta is born first the baby would lose their oxygen supply in utero.

There can be other complications with the placenta as well:

  • placenta accreta where the placenta is attached too deeply into the uterine wall

  • placental abruption where the placenta separates from the uterus too early in pregnancy or labor

Birthing the Placenta

After you birth your baby, your placenta will come within ~30 minutes. How long it takes will depend on the type of management of third stage of labor your provider takes: active management or expectant management. Most hospital providers take the route of active management in which they administer Pitocin to help the uterus contract and clamp down to avoid excess blood loss, cut the baby's cord within about 60-90 seconds, and tug on the umbilical cord to get the placenta out quickly. Expectant management is essentially a wait and see approach favored by birth centers and home birth midwives. Read more about the research on active versus expectant management from Evidence Based Birth. Often times, we see a mix of the two depending on blood loss.

If you have a c-section, your provider will remove your placenta from your uterus through your incision, after the baby. Once both baby and placenta have been born, then they'll start stitching you back up.

After the birth of the placenta, the provider checks to make sure it is complete and that there is no retained placenta (placenta left in your uterus). If there were any placenta left in the uterus, your provider would retrieve it to prevent complications like bleeding, pain, and infection. They do this by manually putting their hand in your vagina/uterus and pulling out the pieces, or in rare cases surgery might be necessary.

Can you really eat your placenta?

But then what? Well, you can either let your birth place dispose of the organ, let them donate it to research, or you can keep it for yourself. A majority of our clients who keep their placenta choose to encapsulate it. You can read more about encapsulation here. But other options include: planting it, freezing it, using it in smoothies (The First Forty Days has a recipe), or you could even get a piece of placenta art made.

It should also be noted that you can collect cord blood and store it. Most people use CBR, Cord Blood Registry. This could change your third stage of management because they need to be able to collect enough for the cord blood kit you have purchased. People choose to do this for a variety of reasons; however, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends against cord blood banking. If you are considering cord blood banking, please read more from ACOG.

Nutrition and the Placenta

You may be more likely to hear talk about an "old or dying" placenta if you reach 40 weeks pregnant or are over 35 and pregnant. So, let's touch on one final thing: your nutrition and your placenta. It may not be common knowledge or shared with you by a provider but you can support the health of your placenta through nutrition. Here are some nutrition tips for you to support your placental health:

  • FAT make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.

  • make sure your dairy products are FULL FAT or WHOLE

  • add avocado, coconut, or olive oil to veggies once cooked or to cook them

  • sprinkle cheese on top of salads or veggies

  • stir coconut oil or butter into your oats

  • make overnight oats with greek yogurt

  • enjoy salmon or another fatty, low mercury fish 2x a week

  • Vitamin C is great for placental function. When you think about vitamin C, ask yourself "what color can I add to my plate?' the focus is on fruits and vegetables.

  • make an egg scramble with bell peppers, red onions and mushrooms

  • make a strawberry banana smoothie with full fat milk or greek yogurt

  • make a fruit salad with a citrus dressing

  • enjoy a greek salad with kalmata olives, cucumbers, kale, red onion and cherry tomato

We want to know, what are you going to do with your placenta after reading this post? Share in the comments!

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