Placenta, disorders of

Inadequate placental function can have serious consequences for the unborn baby in the womb. The function of the placenta is the transport of nutrients and waste products, and exchange of blood and gases between the mother and baby. The placenta also produces hormones which are responsible for, among other things, sustaining the pregnancy. Sudden detachment of the placenta terminates blood supply abruptly (acute insufficiency), and usually causes the death of the foetus. Insufficiency can also arise gradually (chronic insufficiency), leading to under-development of the pregnancy. The child’s growth is backward, and it can show oxygen deficiency. Abnormalities of placental structure or position in the womb can impair optimal blood supply, but usually it is abnormalities of the blood vessels in the mother’s part of the placenta or the womb that are responsible for the deficiency. High blood pressure’” and diabetes mellitus can be factors in bringing about these abnormalities, which lead to minor haemorrhages and infarctions which impair the function of the placenta. The weight of the placenta is also a measure of its capacity, although it must also be seen in the context of the weight of the child. After birth it is also important to weigh the afterbirth and to check it for abnormalities, which could indicate or explain deficient growth in the child.