Musings on the Birth of the Placenta That’ll Surprise You…

The placenta is the only organ that is grown by the human body only to be later expelled once its purpose has been fulfilled. Attached to the uterine wall, it facilitates the transfer of oxygen and nutrients from mother to baby and, thus, sustains life developing within the womb. As time passes, researchers continue to discover more and more about the possibilities and limitations of the placenta. One area, in which there is still much to be learned, pertains to the underpinnings of the process of placental separation from the uterine wall and its expulsion following birth.

Given the widespread active management of the third stage of labor - the time between the birth of your baby and the birth of his/her placenta - in modern obstetrics, it is remarkable indeed to read these musings by German Prof. Dr. med. Sven Hildebrandt, published in the December 2008 issue of the German midwifery journal: Deutsche Hebammen Zeitschrift. To view a free translation in English, scroll down:

"Wir wissen so gut wie gar nichts über die Bedeutung der Verbindung des Kindes mit seiner Plazenta für den Prozess der Plazentalösung. Könnte es nicht sein, dass es über die Nabelschnur subtile Signalmechanismen gibt, mit denen das Kind der Plazenta sagt: "Es geht mir gut, du kannst dich lösen"? Vieles spricht dafür, dass es solche Verbindungen gibt. Zum einen kommt es beim unabgenabelten Kind in der Regel erst dann zur Lösung der Plazenta, wenn Atmung und Kreislauf stabil sind. Zum anderen reagiert das unabgenabelte Kind oft mit einem seufzenden Weinen, wenn sich die Plazenta löst. Wenn diese Hypothese stimmen sollte, könnte unsere Abnabelungskultur große Bedeutung für die Entstehung von Störungen der Plazentalösung haben. [...] Fest steht, dass andere Säugetiere und Primaten das Problem der Störung der Plazentalösung nicht kennen - zumindest nicht in dieser Häufigkeit wie bei uns Menschen."

English translation (this is not intended to be an official translation in any way, although I have attempted to keep it as close to the original as possible):

"We know virtually nothing about the significance with which the connection of the child to his placenta affects the process of placental separation. Could it not be that there are subtle signaling mechanisms through the umbilical cord that allow the infant to say to the placenta: "I am doing well; you can separate"? There are indications that such connections exist. First, in the case of an infant whose umbilical cord has not been clamped, placental separation generally occurs when respiration and circulation are stable. Second, an infant whose cord has not been clamped often responds with a sighing cry as the placenta separates. If this hypothesis is correct, our cord clamping culture could have great significance for the emergence of placental separation disorders. [...] One thing is certain, other mammals and primates do not know the problem of placental separation dysfunction - at least not as frequently as we humans do."

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