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The placenta is an bloody, disk-shaped organ that forms from the outer layers of the fertilized egg and sustains your baby throughout pregnancy.

Soon after you give birth, you'll deliver the placenta often with the help of the drug Pitocin, to speed up the process. Then, it's often discarded as a biohazard though sometimes donated to science. Some weird hippie moms bury theirs under a tree or even eat it, but most brand new moms never get the chance to look at this really quite miraculous piece of meat.

Are you trying to conceive or pregnant right now? We think your placenta deserves some respect. (OK, that's a joke but not entirely.) The placenta is the only organ that spontaneously forms, only to be discarded later, after all. It's quite something. Don't neglect to think about your placenta (haha) while you're pregnant. It's really, really important! To encourage you to give this miracle of nature some more love, here are some facts about it that you may not be familiar with.

The placenta depends on your health

The cells that will eventually become the placenta proliferate into your uterine lining as soon as your fertilized egg nestles into this blood-rich environment. Where it implants and what it will look like depends on your health, to some extent. Placental problems are more common in mothers over 40, those with high blood pressure, blood clotting disorders, a history of uterine surgery including c-sections, and in drug abusers and smokers. Its location matters. A placenta that's located too close to the cervix or indeed right over it causes the need for an automatic c-section. A cervix-covering placenta is called placenta previa. It's more likely to happen in women over 35, those who had a c-section or other uterine surgery in the past, and those who had five or more pregnancies. Smoking and using cocaine can also increase the risk of placenta previa, but those things are never a good idea if you're pregnant or trying to get there.

Your very own parasite

Reproductive immunologist Y W Loke describes the placenta as "a parasite upon the mother". It may not be nice to think of your growing baby and its placenta companion as a parasite, but he has a fair point. You may not know that the placenta doesn't just sit at the surface of your uterine lining. It buries itself deep inside, finding its way into 80 to 100 uterine vessels to get your baby the nutrients it needs while also establishing a neat waste disposal system. Around 20 percent of the mother's (duly increased) blood supply will flow through the placenta during pregnancy every minute. This is miraculous, but you're probably grateful it's only temporary.

Your placenta might help others

Scientists are really beginning to look into the nature of this organ. Until recently, they had no idea that the placenta isn't sterile and tends to contain all kinds of bacterial colonies, for example. (And there you have another nice factoid.) If you don't want to eat your placenta raw "to prevent postpartum depression, give you more energy, and stem any postpartum bleeding", and you don't fancy encapsulating it, making art with it, or burying it under a tree either, you could offer to donate yours to scientific research. Placentae are used in traditional Asian medicine to tonify the liver, kidneys and lungs, but yours probably won't be used that way. There are rumors that expensive skin care products contain placental extract though, so you may look into that as well. The thing is used to grow a baby doesn't it make sense that it might make your skin look nice and young too?

Hormonal haven

The placenta secretes different hormones that are really important to the health of your pregnancy. Among them is human Chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the very hormone that enables you to get a positive result on your pregnancy test. This hormone is present as soon as your tiny embryo implants into the uterine lining, between six and 12 days following fertilization. I never got to see my daughter's placenta, which was carted off by my midwife right after it was expelled. She put it in the bin. My son's placenta was fascinating to look at though. I thought the blood vessels on the fetal side made it look a bit like a tree. Perhaps that's where the burying under a tree tradition comes from? It wasn't interesting enough to make art with it, but certainly worth looking at! Oh, you may also like to read: What does the placenta do and what can go wrong?

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