The Placenta

The placenta is a complex organ that (1) anchors the developing fetus to the uterine wall; (2) provides the maternal/fetal interface for the exchange of nutrients, respiratory gases, and fetal wastes; and (3) directs maternal homeostatic adjustments to meet changing fetal needs by secreting hormones and other substances into the maternal circulation. It is a disc-shaped organ that measures about 22 cm in diameter and has an average thickness of about 2.5 cm at the end of pregnancy. The surface facing the developing fetus is called the chorionic plate. It is penetrated near its center by the umbilical artery and veins, which branch repeatedly to perfuse the functional units, the tree-like placental villi, with fetal blood. The villi are rooted in the chorionic plate and extend toward the basal plate, which is comprised of

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