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About the placenta

7-minute read

What is the placenta?

The placenta is a temporary organ that develops during pregnancy. It attaches to the lining of your uterus and delivers oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby through the umbilical cord.

If something goes wrong with the placenta, it can be serious and even life-threatening to both mum and baby.

What is the role of the placenta during pregnancy?

The placenta passes oxygen, nutrients and antibodies from your blood to your baby. It also carries waste products from your baby back to your blood, so your body can get rid of them.

The placenta also produces some hormones like oestrogen and progesterone that are needed during pregnancy.

What is the normal position of the placenta during pregnancy?

The placenta should attach to the wall of the uterus, usually at the top, side, front or back. The exact location will vary from person to person and in each pregnancy.

The placenta can sometimes develop low in the uterus but will generally move higher as your uterus stretches. The position of the placenta will be checked at your 18-week ultrasound.

This image shows a normal placental location, with the placenta attached at the top of the uterus.
This image shows a normal placental location, with the placenta attached at the top of the uterus.

How does the placenta work in twin pregnancies?

Fraternal twins come from separate eggs and each have their own placenta. Identical twins come from the same egg that separates, and they may share a placenta or have their own.

Can medicines cross the placenta?

Alcohol, nicotine, medicines and other drugs can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s health.

What should I do to keep my placenta healthy during pregnancy?

It’s important to visit your healthcare provider regularly during pregnancy. If there are complications, they can be identified during these appointments.

Tell your doctor if you have had problems with the placenta in a previous pregnancy, or if you have had any surgery to your uterus.

If you smoke, drink alcohol or take certain drugs during pregnancy, this increases the likelihood of problems with the placenta.

Always consult your doctor before you take any medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, natural therapies and supplements, while you are pregnant.

Speak with your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns, or if you experience:

  • severe abdominal (stomach) pain or back pain
  • vaginal bleeding
  • contractions
  • any trauma to your abdomen, for example from a fall or car accident

What happens to the placenta after my baby is born?

After your baby is born, you will need to birth your placenta. This is called the third stage of labour. This stage of labour can be managed in different ways.

If you had a vaginal birth, you will usually have some mild contractions and need to give a few pushes to help your placenta to come out.

If you have a caesarean section, your doctor will remove the placenta at the same time your baby is born.

Once you birth your placenta your doctor or midwife will check that it looks complete. If there is any concern that your placenta isn’t complete, they may suggest further investigations. If any bits of placenta are retained (stay inside you), they may have to be surgically removed to prevent infection.

Can I take my placenta home with me?

It is your choice what you do with your placenta. You may choose to discard it; in which case your hospital or birthing centre will take care of this.

If you wish to take your placenta home, you can speak to your doctor or midwife to arrange this.

In some cultures, people bury the placenta in a special place.

‘Placentophagy’ is a practice where people cook and eat their placenta. There is no research to support health benefits from this. However, you may choose to do this for cultural, spiritual, or personal reasons.

Some commercial service providers offer to turn your placenta into capsules for you to swallow. It should be noted that there may be a risk of infection from poor preparation. These practices should be treated with caution.

Can anything go wrong with my placenta?

Problems with your placenta can happen during pregnancy, birth and after birth. These are potentially dangerous for both you and your baby.

If your bleeding is severe and you have significant pain, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
If you have any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Placental abruption is when some or all the placenta comes away from the wall of the uterus before your baby is born.

Placenta praevia is when the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix (the narrow opening in the uterus).

Placental insufficiency is when the placenta doesn’t work properly during pregnancy. It deprives the baby of oxygen and nutrients they need to grow and develop.

Placenta accreta is when the placenta grows too deeply into the wall of the uterus. This can lead to severe bleeding during or after delivery and can be life-threatening.

Retained placenta is when your placenta does not completely come out after the birth. This might be because it is stopped by your cervix or is still attached to your uterus.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2022


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Need more information?

Placenta previa - Better Health Channel

Placenta previa means the placenta has implanted at the bottom of the uterus, over the cervix or close by.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Retained placenta

A retained placenta is when part or all of the placenta is not delivered after the baby is born. It can lead to serious infection or blood loss.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Placenta praevia

Placenta praevia is a condition where the placenta lies low and may cover the cervix, blocking the baby's exit during birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Placenta accreta

Placenta accreta is a serious but rare pregnancy complication that causes heavy bleeding. If you have it, you will need special care at the birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Placental abruption - Better Health Channel

Placental abruption means the placenta has detached from the wall of the uterus, starving the baby of oxygen and nutrients.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Placental insufficiency

Placental insufficiency occurs when the placenta does not work properly and your baby doesn't get the oxygen and nutrients they need.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

It is not just a woman’s issue - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

If a woman drinks during pregnancy the alcohol crosses the placenta to the baby. But what about the effect of alcohol on men?

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Placental abruption

Placental abruption is when some or all of the placenta peels away from the uterus wall before birth. It can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy test - Pathology Tests Explained

Starting approximately two weeks after conception, a hormone called human chorionic gonadatropin (hCG) hormone is produced by the developing placenta and can be detected in urine and in blood

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

4 weeks pregnant: Key points

When you are 4 weeks pregnant your body and your new baby are undergoing rapid changes. The placenta forms and begins producing a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), which is the substance a pregnancy test detects to confirm you are pregnant. The cells which are growing into your new baby establish membranes which connect them to the placenta and prepare themselves for differentiation into different types of cells, which will occur next week when you are 5 weeks pregnant. These developments may cause you to experience unusual emotions and also cause changes in your body such as darkening of the areolas of your nipples.

Read more on Parenthub website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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