10 Amazing Things About Your Placenta

The placenta is the ugly stepchild of pregnancy: No one likes to think about it much. Its nickname, "afterbirth," drives home the idea that this blobby, bloody mess is just an unappetizing afterthought best disposed of as soon as possible. Yet let's not forget that that darling infant in your arms wouldn't even exist without this highly unusual organ, and a growing number of scientists and women alike are finally giving it some long-overdue attention. Here are 10 surprising facts about the placenta will give you a new-found appreciation for its many powers.

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The placenta is the reason we don't lay eggs. According to reproductive immunologist Y. W. Loke's book Life's Vital Link: The Astonishing Role of the Placenta, the placenta enables humans to give birth to live offspring rather than the alternative: laying eggs. And since eggs break, this is a very good thing.

Its texture has been described as "liver meets berber carpet." I've never felt a placenta, but this description says everything I need to know.

It's also been called a "parasite." According to Loke, the placenta is parasitic, like a tick or a flea. “It has literally burrowed into the substance of her womb and is siphoning off nutrients from her blood to provide for the embryo," he says.

It's the only "disposable" organ in the body. While several "vestigial" organs exist which no longer serve a purpose, the placenta is the only organ that's disposable once its duty is done.

It can weigh up to two pounds. That means it's responsible for a little bit of your pregnancy weight, but not much.

It grows 32 miles of capillaries. These capillaries, buried into the uterine wall, draw off maternal blood, picking up oxygen and nutrients and eliminating waste. Every minute, about 20 percent of the mother’s blood flows through this organ.

Spread out, it would measure 120 to 150 feetWhile the placenta looks like a disc, the tissue formed to exchange oxygen and nutrients attached to the uterine wall is very wrinkly. Unfurled, it would cover the bottom of a trailer home.

The placenta pumps out hormones. Feeling hormonal during your pregnancy? Blame your placenta, which produces a variety of hormones like estrogen and hCG.

Placenta eating is the norm, not the exception. Placentophagia, the practice of eating the placenta, may be a growing trend among hippy moms and a few outspoken celebs, but it's also common practice among land mammals. Camels and humans are the only ones who don't partake as a rule.

Its health benefits are debatable. In The Placenta Cookbook, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian waxed on about how dining on this organ "is said to alleviate postpartum depression, aid in breast milk production and lactation, act as a uterine tonic, and replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy," she wrote. While none of these claims have been scientifically verified, that hasn't stopped many women from eating theirs in the form of placenta pills, placentacos, and even placenta smoothies. Yum!

Do you know anything surprising about the placenta?


Image via cnicholsonpath/Flickr

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