The Placenta: A Vital Organ for Baby, Mom, and Science
Graphic: Illustration of the placenta
What is the placenta?
A temporary organ linking mother and fetus—brings nutrients and oxygen to the fetus and moves harmful waste and materials away.
Graphic: Illustration of oxygen molecules inside a circle.
Graphic: 3 water droplets inside a circle.
Graphic: A shield inside a circle.
What does the placenta do?
- It performs multiple functions, acting as the lungs, kidneys, and liver, and the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and immune systems for the fetus.
- It produces hormones to help maintain pregnancy and support fetal development.
- It protects the fetus from the mother’s immune system.
Graphic: Image of a fetus in utero, with placenta. The fetus is surrounded by three icons: an icon representing lungs, an icon representing kidneys, and an icon representing the liver.
Why is the placenta so important?
- Vital for pregnancy, it plays a big role in pregnancy outcomes. Problems with the placenta can result in conditions like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, prematurity, and stillbirth.
- It can influence lifelong health. Problems with the placenta can be a marker, maybe even a cause, of later disease of mother and child.
Graphic: A silhouette of a pregnant woman. The fetus inside, including the placenta and umbilical cord, is visible.
What does science say?
Scientists are still learning what a “normal” placenta is and how it functions.
Many past studies were limited to analyzing the placenta after delivery.
New technologies may allow scientists to safely study the placenta during pregnancy.
Learning more about the placenta could:
- Pave the way for new treatments to improve the health of mom and baby, during pregnancy and throughout their lives.
- Provide insights into other important health issues like organ transplantation and cancer treatment.
Graphic: Illustration of scientist looking at fluid in a test tube.
Human Placenta Project (HPP)
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Graphic: Logo of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Links to https://www.nichd.nih.gov/Pages/index.aspx
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