Placenta during Pregnancy – Functions & Complications

As the new life begins inside a mother’s womb, it must have its source of nourishment too. The placenta is the vital organ that provides nourishment to the baby in the womb. Thus, placenta role in pregnancy is of utmost importance.


The placenta is a flattened, circular organ that develops during pregnancy and is attached to the wall of the uterus. It provides for all the nutritional needs of the baby and carries out various other functions for the growing foetus. The placenta is attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. Commonly, the placenta attaches to the side or the top of the uterus. The placenta is delivered soon after the birth of the baby.


Importance of the Placenta

Why is placenta important? Well, a placenta is the support system of the unborn child. The nutrients and oxygen from the mother reach the placenta through the bloodstream. The umbilical cord attached to the placenta carries it to the foetus. In a similar way, the umbilical cord carries the waste products from the baby into the placenta and thus to the mother’s bloodstream for the final disposal. Apart from nurturing the foetus, the placenta also protects the foetus from any kind of bacterial or viral infection.

12 Functions of Placenta

How does placenta work? The placenta performs many important functions from the conception to the birth of the child. Discussed here are details about the placenta and its function

  • The placenta transfers food from the mother’s bloodstream to the foetus thus providing it with all the basic nutrients.
  • Oxygen from the mother reaches the unborn child through the placenta.
  • The placenta also purifies the blood of any harmful substance, which might harm the foetal health, by acting as a barrier and providing protection against it.
  • Protein from the mother’s blood is digested in the placenta before entering the foetal bloodstream.
  • The placenta acts as the baby’s liver before the foetal liver is formed, to store glycogen, fat, etc.
  • The placenta acts as an endocrine gland by secreting hormones such as progesterone, oestrogen, and HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).
  • Nitrogenous waste from the foetus passes through the placenta before entering into the mother’s bloodstream.
  • The placenta also breaks down the food particles consumed by the mother for the easy absorption of nutrients by the foetus.
  • Vast amounts of hormones are secreted to produce placental lactose. It ensures good levels of glucose in the mother’s bloodstream which in turn will be circulated in the baby’s system.
  • One of the vital functions of the placenta is to aid the oxygen inhaled by the mother to reach the baby. It also prevents the possibility of inhalation of amniotic fluids by the baby, which may prove to be fatal.
  • During the later stages of pregnancy, the placenta moves on top of the womb for easy opening of the cervix and delivery of the baby.
  • The placenta produces various hormones to keep premature contractions of the uterus at bay.

Factors That Affect Function of Placenta

A healthy placenta is very important for the growth and development of the foetus. Although in most cases the placenta keeps performing all the functions without any complications, there are a few factors that might disrupt the proper functioning of this organ, giving rise to placenta problem pregnancy.

1. Maternal Age

Mothers who are forty or more in age are more likely to have complications and face problems related to placenta.

2. Trauma

Any kind of trauma to the abdominal region of a pregnant woman may prove to be fatal and cause serious issues with the placenta as well.

3. High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure which is above the normal levels is likely to be harmful to the placenta and may cause a threat to foetal health.

4. Carrying Twins or more Babies

Mothers who are pregnant with twins or more babies are at a probable danger of having complications with their placenta.

5. Blood-Clotting Problems

Placental problems may arise in mothers who have a medical history that hinders their blood to clot.

6. Premature Membrane Rupture

The amniotic sac provides cushioning to the baby. But if ruptures before the labour, it is likely to cause problems to the placenta.

7. Consuming Harmful Substances

Use of certain medicines, drugs, etc., can cause a serious threat to the placenta which in turn can cause various complications.

8. Previous Placental Problem

Mothers who have had issues related to the placenta in their earlier pregnancies are at an increased risk of having them in their subsequent pregnancies as well.

9. Previous History of Uterine Surgery

Women who have undergone surgical procedures in their uterine region are more susceptible to having placenta-related problems.

10. Gestational Diabetes

Mothers who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at a major risk of developing issues related to the placenta.

Placenta Complications in Pregnancy

It is very important to keep a check on placental health throughout the pregnancy for healthy foetal development. Normally, there are no complications with placenta, and pregnancy is a smooth sail. But in a few cases, placenta problems pregnancy may arise due to a number of reasons. The complication can be a cause of serious concern for both mother and baby.

1. Placenta Previa or Low-Lying Placenta

The placenta is usually located on the side or on the top of the uterus. But when the placenta is unusually low in the uterus, either covering the cervix or next to it, this condition is called placenta praevia. In later stages of pregnancy, placenta praevia may cause serious complications. In case of complete or total praevia, the placenta is covering the cervix completely. In such cases, the baby cannot be born through vaginal delivery and a caesarean section needs to be performed. In case of partial praevia, there are still chances of vaginal birth. This condition is common in older women, women who have had uterine surgeries, women who have undergone caesarean section before, women who have had abortions, etc.

2. Placental Dysfunction

The main function of the placenta is to provide sufficient nutrition to the foetus. Placental insufficiency occurs when the placenta is unable to provide enough nutrients to the foetus. This condition can pose a serious threat to the unborn child, such as oxygen deprivation at birth, premature labour, stillbirth, etc. Though this condition may not be life-threatening for the mother, it might become dangerous for her in cases where she suffers from hypertension or diabetes.

3. Abruption of Placenta

Placental abruption is said to occur when the placenta detaches from the uterus during the course of pregnancy. The detached blood vessels cause vaginal bleeding, pain in the stomach, and contractions. This condition might affect the growth of the foetus, cause premature birth or even lead to still birth. Women with medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, uterine complications, abdominal trauma, and previous history of abruption, and women who smoke or use drugs are more likely to be at risk of having placental abruption during their pregnancy.

4. Hyper Tension

High blood pressure may cause problems in the placenta. The blood flow to the placenta decreases because of hyper tension, which means fewer nutrients and oxygen get supplied to the foetus. This can result in slow growth, premature birth or low birth weight.

5. Placenta Accreta

When the placenta is too deeply attached to the uterine wall, the condition is called placenta accreta. Premature births may result from this condition. This kind of placenta has difficulty detaching from the uterine wall. The surgical or manual removal may cause serious haemorrhaging and can prove to be life-threatening.

6. Infarcts in the Placenta

Infracts or dead tissues present in the placenta can disrupt the blood flow to the foetus. Though in a majority of the cases these minor infractions do not pose any threat to the mother or the unborn child, serious infractions can cause foetal distress and other complications.

7. Retained Placenta

The placenta is usually delivered after the delivery of the child. But sometimes some part or parts of the placenta may remain inside the womb and may cause serious complications. If natural methods fail, then surgical intervention might be needed to remove the retained placenta.

Bringing a new life into this world is an amazing feeling. Every mother undergoes a different journey and has a different experience. From the moment a child is conceived till the birth of the child, a mother needs to take care of her health. Make sure you observe proper care and caution and discuss with your doctor in case you experience any complications during pregnancy.