The Placenta: it's functions and how it develops

In my last post, I said, I would gradually put up on this blog bits of my research on the placenta. If you would like to read it all now in it's original french version, you can ask me for the PDF document.

Before telling you about all the functions and roles of the placenta, it's important to start at the begining. How does it develop? What are it's roles and responsibilities in utero

At the moment of conception, a wonderful process is put into place: it is the beginning of a new life.  Five days after conception, the small regroupment of cells that were created from the union of the sperm and egg, now called blastocyst, has to divide itself again. The external layer, called trophoblast, will become the placenta, and the inner part, called the embryoblast, will become the baby. The way the blastocyst separates itself clearly indicates that the baby AND the placenta both come from the union of the sperm cell and egg, meaning that they are genetically indentical. Six days after conception, the trophoblast, or future placenta, begins to attach to the uterine wall in order to form the placenta. The implantation should be complete by day 12. 

Once the placenta is implanted in the uterus, the placental circulation starts, and the circulatory systems of the mother and of the baby can start maing exchanges, but the mother's blood will never mix with the baby's. At the start of the third month of pregnancy, the foetus and the mother each have their own distinct and separate blood systems. This is one of the wonderful properties of the placenta: it connects the mother to her child and the oxygen and nutrients get through, but the bloods never mix. We can realise this even better when mother and child have incompatible blood types!

The placenta itself weights about a pound, and looks a little like a tree. On the foetal side, the placenta is smooth and shiny, with the umbilical cord usually starting in the middle and splitting into veins. On the maternal side, the placenta looks more like chunks of meat packed up together, with a spongy surface that attaches to the uterine wall.

During pregnancy, and during birth, the placenta is responsible for the survival of the mother and the child. It acts as a barrier to protect the baby from various unwanted elements, and against most foreign and possibly harmful molecules. It is important to note that it sometimes does not recognize potentially harmful unnatural substances such as drugs and alcohol, which is why it is important to be careful during pregnancy. It also produces and uses various hormones, like oestrogen, progesterone, and gonadotrophin. The hormones produced by the placenta control the contractions and make sure the uterus is the perfect environment for the baby to grow in. These hormones also prepare lactation for the mother, thus preparing for the baby's survival after birth.

The placenta also has the ability to choose and carry the good nutrients that are essential to the development of the baby's tissues. It chooses the nutrients from the mother's blood, and sends them to the foetus. One amazing thing is that the placenta can even manage to grow a healthy baby even if the mother is malnourished. Some researches have also shown that the placenta can sacrifice itself if there is a famine by dissolving it's own tissues so the baby can develop normally.

The placenta also acts as the baby's ''lawyer''. It is able to manipulate the mother's system for the benefit of the baby when there is a need for something in particular. It uses a system of hormones to make all sorts of demands to the mother's body, like to dilute her blood, or to send specific nutrients.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!


ENNING, Cornelia, Le Placenta, rituels et usages thérapeutiques, Éditions du Hêtre, 2010, 102 pages.
GASKIN, Ina May, Spiritual Midwifery, Book Publishing Company, 2002, 480 pages 
GASKIN, Ina May, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Bantam Books, 2003, 348 pages 
LIM, Robin, Placenta, the Forgotten Chakra, Half Angel Press, 2010, 180 pages. 
ODENT, Michel, L’amour Scientifié, Editions Jouvence, 1999, 174 pages. healthy-in-case-of-starvation-research-shows/ (recherche about famine)