The placenta

According to the Oxford English Dictionary: Pronunciation: /pləˈsɛntə/ Definition of placenta in English: noun (plural placentae pləˈsɛntiː or placentas). A flattened circular organ in the uterus of pregnant eutherian mammals, nourishing and maintaining the foetus through the umbilical cord.

I’ve always been fascinated by placentas, but unfortunately the role of the placenta is often rather neglected. You seldom hear people talking about the birth of the placenta, unless it’s not gone as smoothly as it should have and has, for example, resulted in surgery to remove the placenta.

But placentas are beautiful, unique and exist in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Placentas can cause life-threatening situations, but this fortunately doesn’t happen often. First and foremost, the placenta is the organ which allows your baby to grow and develop. No placenta = no baby. So it’s high time we give the placenta some more attention, starting with this blog. 🙂

The average placenta has a diameter of approximately 20 cm, is 2 tot 3 cm thick, and weighs 500 gram. The placenta ensures that your baby gets all the nutrients and oxygen it needs, and also removes waste products. One side of the placenta is known as the maternal side. I call this ‘the ugly side’ of the placenta. It’s flabby, and is the side which is attached to the wall of the uterus, and it’s rather ugly. 🙂


The other side of the placenta is known as the foetal side, and this is the beautiful side. This is the side which your baby can see. You can clearly see the veins running through it, which makes it look like a tree of life, which is very symbolic.


Completing the placenta is the membranes, and your baby ‘lives’ inside the membranes. There are actually 2 membranes against each other (known as the amnion and the chorion).


If you want to see it, after the birth you can see exactly how the baby sat in your belly, and where it ‘lived’. Depending on where your membranes broke during birth, you can sometimes recreate the baby’s ‘home’ really nicely.


Sometimes the membranes break in such a way that they’re rather tattered, and then it’s not possible to recreate baby’s ‘house’. This is also often the case with a ceasarian section, because the cut made into the membranes is so large.


Sometimes the placenta has an extra lobe. It’s like a sort of extra mini-placenta. Officially this is called a succenturiate lobe.


Placentas with an extra lobe are different to bilobate placentas. A bilobate placenta is made up of 2 lobes of the same size.


Sometimes the veins run over the membranes (as on the photo above), instead of in the umbilical cord or through the placenta. This is known as velamentous cord insertion, and only happens in 1,1% of cases.


In 99% of cases the umbilical cord ends in the placenta, but the location varies. It can be in the centre, but it can also be at the side.


When you choose to leave the placenta attached to the baby this is a called a lotus birth.  The placenta will stay attached to the baby till the cord will naturally fall off.  You can also choose for a half lotus and cut the cord after the baby is born.


And finally, placentas come in all kinds of shapes. How amazing is this one, shaped like a heart?


As you can see, no two placentas are the same! Apart from being a very special organ, the placenta can also be used after the birth. One things that can be done with it, is to eat it. People believe that this helps you recover faster, but there is also research which suggests exactly the opposite to be true. There are various way in which you can ‘eat’ your placenta. You can use it raw, in a smoothie for example, but you can also have it encapsulated. There are a number of people in the Netherlands who do this. They dry your placenta out, and make capsule which you can swallow. If you want some more inspiration, you can have a look in the placenta-cookbook 🙂

If you’d like a memento of your placenta, there are also various options. You can bury it int he garden, and plant a tree above it, or you can get it made into photo frame van maken.You can also consider having it worked into a piece of jewlery.

You have to admit it – placentas are fascinating!