If you’re currently pregnant or planning to be, you may have heard about the placenta- that magical organ that keeps your growing baby supplied with everything they need to thrive. But did you know that the placenta also plays a key role in producing hormones that help regulate your pregnancy and prepare your body for labor? Here, we’ll take a closer look at what hormones the placenta produces and why they’re so important.
What Is The Placenta?
Let’s start with some basic biology. The placenta is an organ that develops in your uterus during pregnancy. It’s attached to the wall of your uterus and connected to your baby via the umbilical cord. Its main job is to provide nutrients and oxygen to your growing baby while also removing waste products like carbon dioxide.
In addition to its nutritional role, though, the placenta is also a powerful endocrine gland – meaning it produces hormones that influence many aspects of your pregnancy.
What Hormones Does The Placenta Produce?
There are several key hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy:
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin
You may recognize this hormone from those early pregnancy tests – it’s what they detect in order to give you a positive result! hCG is produced by cells in the outer layer of the embryo soon after implantation and continues to increase until around week 10-12 of gestation.
But what does hCG do? Its main job is actually triggering production of another hormone called progesterone . It can also suppress maternal immune responses, preventing rejection of the fetus.
Progesterone is sometimes called “the pregnancy hormone” because its levels soar during gestation. As mentioned above, hCG stimulates the production of progesterone by the placenta.
Progesterone plays several key roles during pregnancy. For one thing, it helps maintain the uterine lining and prevent miscarriage. It also suppresses contractions of the uterus, helping to prevent premature labor. And it’s involved in preparing the breasts for lactation .
Estrogen is actually a group of hormones, but during pregnancy we’re mostly concerned with two in particular: estradiol and estriol.
Estradiol is produced by both you and your baby during gestation, but most of it comes from the placenta after about week 12. Its main role is promoting growth and development of your fetus’ reproductive system as well as other organs like lungs.
Estriol is produced only during pregnancy and peaks around weeks 28-32. It’s primarily made by the fetal liver and acts as an indicator of fetal well-being – high levels are associated with good outcomes like healthy birth weight.
Human Placental Lactogen
This hormone is sometimes called human chorionic somatomammotropin because it has properties similar to both growth hormone and prolactin. Its main effects include stimulating maternal metabolism to provide nutrients for fetal growth, promoting development of fetal organs, enhancing maternal breast tissue to support milk production^1^, and regulating glucose metabolism.
Why Are These Hormones Important?
The hormones produced by the placenta play critical roles in ensuring a successful pregnancy:
- Progesterone helps maintain your uterine lining so that your baby can grow properly.
- Estrogens help promote proper fetal development.
- hCG prevents rejection of the fetus by suppressing immune responses.
- Together with estrogen, progesterone also prepares your body for labor by relaxing your uterine muscles and preventing premature contractions.
Q: Can I supplement with these hormones during pregnancy?
A: No! There is no safe and effective way to supplement with these hormones. Trying to do so could cause serious harm to you or your baby.
Q: Are there any risks associated with the hormones produced by the placenta?
A: In general, no – these hormones are critical for healthy pregnancy. However, extremely high levels of hCG can indicate a molar pregnancy , while low levels may signal an ectopic pregnancy ^2^. Low progesterone levels may be associated with miscarriage or preterm birth^3^. As with anything related to pregnancy, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns.
Q: Do hormone imbalances affect fertility?
A: Yes. Hormonal imbalances involving estrogen and progesterone can interfere with ovulation and make conception more difficult. Women who suspect hormonal imbalance as a factor in infertility should discuss testing options with their doctor.
In conclusion, understanding what hormones are produced by the placenta is important for anyone looking to conceive or currently experiencing pregnancy. These powerful substances play key roles in maintaining a healthy gestation from beginning to end – but like most things related to growing humans, they’re complex! Be sure to talk through any questions or concerns about hormonal health during this time period thoroughly with your healthcare team.
^1^ https://www. ncbi. nlm. nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC4944164/
^2^ https://www. health. harvard. edu/a_to_z/hydatidiform_mole-a-to-z
^3^ https://www. mdedge. com/sites/default/files/Document/October-2019/0710WH_Clinical-Care. pdf