Five Discoveries Moms-to-be Should Know About Their Placenta

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The placenta is sort of a mysterious organ. We know that it's formed during pregnancy, that babies depend on it, and that it must be "delivered" after the birth of a child. But most of us know little else about its function in the human body or how it may affect us, even into adulthood. Here are five samples of research that offer more insight.

The placenta is a mirror of your stress level

A recent study concludes that if a mother is exposed to stress during pregnancy, her placenta translates that experience to the fetus by altering levels of a protein. And that can affect the developing brains of male and female offspring differently.

These findings, suggest one way in which maternal stress exposure may be linked to neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.

A low-protein diet may predispose children to adult hypertension

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston report that based on a study of rats, the high maternal testosterone levels associated with a low-protein diet could result in more testosterone reaching the fetus and increase the child's susceptibility to adulthood hypertension.

Length of pregnancy is influenced by placenta structure

The nine-month pregnancy experienced by humans is influenced by the structure of the placenta, according to new research into the evolution of reproduction in mammals. 

The study, by Durham and Reading universities, shows that babies grow twice as fast in the wombs of some mammals compared to others. The difference in growth rates appears to be due to the structure of the placenta and the way it connects mother and baby.

The human placenta is a distant relative of the eggshell

A new study suggests the placenta of humans and other mammals evolved from the much simpler tissue that is attached to the inside of eggshells.

The placenta grows inside the mother's uterus and serves as a way of exchanging gas and nutrients between mother and fetus; it is expelled from the mother's body after the birth of a baby. It is the only organ to develop in adulthood and is the only one with a defined end date.

Preeclampsia may be caused by a struggle between the placenta and uterus

Researchers observed that the placenta tricks the mother's body so that it doesn't attack the trophoblasts that are trying to increase the flow of her blood into the placenta. If this doesn't work, the mother may develop preeclampsia.