Could the placenta continue to function?

Exactly. And it’s not really size of the fetus so much as age that triggers the placenta to begin atrophying and dying, as I understand it. Placentas just don’t live very long; 42 weeks is about the limit, as far as we know. Women who go beyond that tend to have babies who aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they need as the placenta starts to get smaller as it loses blood supply. There’s no reason to think that a placenta would have a longer lifespan in another environment than it has in a human uterus. It might be possible, someday, to remove a placenta and fetus early in pregnancy and use the placenta as some sort of life support system to continue fetal development ex utero, but we’re a long way from having that sort of technology today, and we have absolutely no inkling of whether such a theoretical environment might support a placenta beyond the usual 40ish weeks. I’m not sure why it would though, as a uterus, the most ideal place in the universe for a placenta, can’t.

When the infant is born, the mother’s uterus continues to contract in reaction to the hormone oxytocin. The uterine muscle tissue is unlike the rest of our muscles. Rather than returning to a stretched out state when it relaxes, it exhibits a quality known as myometrial retraction, thanks to the influence of other hormones called prostaglandins. It contracts (getting smaller) and then stays smaller while relaxing, and contracts (getting smaller) again. The placenta does not get smaller. The net effect here is that the container holding the placenta is shrinking, and the placenta is not. The placenta begins to rip away as it no longer has the surface area it needs to support it. Where it tears away, blood vessels are exposed, which are quickly kinked shut by the latticework of constricting uterine muscles so that the mother does not bleed to death.

See, I told you. The pseudopods manifest themselves in a lower-oxygen setting.

People will have to spend more on professional babysitters who can manage placentas as well as infants. “Make sure Tommy is in bed by 7, and don’t forget to top off nutrient solutions and change the filter in the placenta tank.”

Mind you, encouraging the concept of placentas as independent human entities might be beneficial, if it discourages wacko-moms from dining on Placenta Bolognaise and drinking Placenta Smoothies.

The goal is most easily simplified in metaphor.

"As the plant outgrows the seed, it takes root in the soil and lives.

If the plant outgrows the seed, but is not in fertile soil, the root is more hindrance than help.

The plant without soil wastes no energy on a root system."

As the human outgrows the womb, the placenta is maintained in fluid and lives.

If the human outgrows the womb, but is not in suitable fluid, the placenta is more hindrance than help.

The human without fluid wastes no energy on a placenta.

If an astronaut helmet seal fails in a vacuum, the wearer is exposed to a hostile environment, and is unable to respirate.

If a placental seal fails in a gaseous atmosphere, the organ is exposed to a hostile environment, and is unable to respirate.

No, the placenta will fail, given time, even in its ideal fluid environment.

I could have been less vague. I was referring to the agents’ ability to locomote.
Cells and microorganisms of all kinds have this capability, and with resources in close enough proximity, little to no general circulation would be necessary.
Not crawling placentae, but active oxygen, nutrient, and waste-carrying agents suspended in the fluid bath the placenta rests in.

In that scenario, Tommy’s lungs had not fully developed, and he is only alive, because of those nutrients and that filter.

And placenta pills, oils, lotions, creams, etc.
Not going too deeply into that here, but recognizing it as a viable organ is a big step toward preventing it’s consumption.

Thank you! I have been searching for an answer!

What are your sources?

Sorry, this doesn’t do it for me. Not your fault. I’m not always good with metaphors.

Let me put it another way. Let’s say the answer to your original question in the OP is yes.

Then what?

I’m going to hazard a guess that her sources are the scary statistics about the risk of fetal death after week 42 due to placental deterioration.

“Then what?”, indeed.

The scope of repercussion of the answer being yes are so far-reaching that any attempt would be disservice.

Simply, a great deal may change.

Realistically, humanity would have to reevaluate their entire existence.

I have no rebuttal to the transitional relationship between womb and placenta, at this time.

What is relevant, is that the womb ceases to be the ideal environment.

If, at that point, a preferable alternative is available, we may find the deterioration is one-sided, leaving the placenta supporting a healthy baby.


My son was overdue, by three weeks, because of a conception date miscomputation at his mother’s first obstetric visit.

The placenta, in its natural environment, fully connected and engaged with womb and fetus, was disintegrating in place. It was falling apart. It barely hung together long enough for a safe delivery; during placental delivery, it left huge chunks still attached to my wife’s uterine lining, through which she nearly hemorrhaged to death.

The placenta is a temporary organ. You’ll have to convince the actual tissues to last longer than 9 months, probably requiring a radically different environment than a pregnant uterus, to overcome that fundamental limitation.

ETA: Having read some of your other speculations, I assure you: from the experience I cite, the uterus itself is fine; the placenta is what’s losing tissue integrity and breaking up. If it were a matter of the uterus becoming unsuitable for the placenta, you would expect the placenta to come out intact, which is actually the expected behavior. The placenta is disintegrating because its time is up. It would probably do that regardless of any environment you might try to keep it alive in.

Also, what problem are you solving? The placenta has only one purpose, which only needs to exist 9 months to accomplish.

Thank you for the anecdotal evidence.

The placenta kept your child alive for three weeks beyond their ideal birth date, before failing.

This is wonderful to hear!

I wonder if there are examples of longer times.

Since the maternal cycle had moved on, had that any effect on the relationship?

Perhaps the natural environment was no longer ideal.

Ignorance is not so much a problem to be solved, but an adventure to be manifest.

What the purpose of the placenta may be, is beyond this humble thinkers pay grade.

Don’t misunderestimate yourself! Give it a shot! Try to explain what you envision an extracorporeal placenta, et al, accomplishing. And please go light on grandiose assertions and offer some, or at least one good, specific concrete description. You’re dealing with a very literal thinker here.

You have asked for specific evidence. I am asking for specific consequence.

Provision of oxygen 10 times more effectively than lungs.
Increased mental capacity. (See previous)
Provision of nutrition from ambient sources.
Reduced need for food consumption. (See previous)
Removal of waste products from blood.
Provision of “stem cells”.

These are speculative, modest, assertions.

Either they are true, and relatively mundane, or false, and ridiculous.

The more extravagant potentials might include an associated sensory threshold, a sense, like touch, or taste; that expands perception.

Another would be that a continuous supply of new stem cells could lead to the kind of indefinite lifespan that organisms with analogous root-type organ systems display.

Sometimes the most poignant is the child, who lives despite premature birth, because what is outside, was what was inside.

If keeping the placenta in an ideal environment can keep a child alive for the time it takes for it’s lungs to finish developing, even if it does not last beyond that, it is a worthwhile endeavor.

The groundwork seems to be years on:

In everything I have found, they have either tried to eliminate the natural germination process entirely, or have denied the embryo any period of natural gestation.

Allow the child to grow naturally in the womb, then provide what is described as an “artificial womb” at the time of birth, for the placenta.

The logistics of each individual having a placenta-supporting device may be difficult, whereas a passive fluid environment would mean a different set of solutions.

OK, this is something we can work with.

It seems what you’re really getting at are two different scenarios:

(1) Embryologic development in an extra uterine (actually extracorporeal) environment, where the placenta is left attached to the fetus, either to (a) complete intrauterine development that was prematurely interrupted, as with premature births, or (b) to begin the process de novo, or very close to, which could, if developed to full capacity, make the intrauterine part of human procreation unnecessary.

(2) Leaving the placenta attached to fully developed humans – born either the old fashioned way involving a uterus, or by germination in an extracorporeal environment – so that said humans may be the lifelong beneficiaries of the placenta’s known and supposed amazing properties.

With (1a), I think you may be onto something, as very briefly described in the linked article. It’s essentially the prospect for a new technology to facilitate the viability of premature infants. The difference is that they are not, as I read it, leaving the placenta attached. Even in the goat experiments they are disconnecting the placenta and catheterizing the umbilical cord. I’d be interested to know what’s on the other end of the catheter. Whatever it is, and whatever it’s doing, the placenta would do that as a matter of innate physiology, so I suppose, all else equal, leaving it attached would make things easier. But disassociating an implanted placenta from a uterus while keeping it all viable would involve its own problems. Here, of course, your original question becomes paramount, namely, would a detached placenta continue to do for the fetus what it does when it’s attached to the uterus. In theory, I don’t see why it couldn’t, provided all the problems of detachment, getting the medium right, and all that, were worked out. Unless you believe in supernatural forces, everything in biology is mechanistic; and anything mechanistic can, in theory, be tweaked and manipulated (but not always controlled to the desired extent).

(1b) is really an extension of (1a), just pushing it further back (earlier) in the course of fetal development. Again, I suppose if all the variables were controlled (and that’s a big if) it should work. Whether we’d want it to is another question. (Isn’t that what happens at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey?) In either of these scenarios we’re really not talking about extending the life of the placenta beyond a normal gestational period, just having it do its thing in a nonuterine situation.

With (2) you’re really moving on to something else. Before getting into whether the placenta could survive, I’d question some of the underlying assumptions about the supposed benefits of doing so.

(2a) As for “Provision of oxygen 10 times more effectively than lungs” I’m not sure what you mean. Can you explain that further? Fetal hemoglobin has a higher affinity for oxygen than regular hemoglobin. That’s what allows the mother to deliver oxygen across the placenta. But that is not a property of the placenta, but the hemoglobin. Further, the benefit of “greater oxygen provision” is dubious. A healthy person (ex utero and with no retained placenta-in-a-box) will be saturating their hemoglobin at close to 100%. The amount of oxygen going to the brain is more a factor of the hemoglobin content of the blood and the blood flow to the brain rather than “provision ” of oxygen at the source. You can increase the delivery of oxygen slightly by dissolving more into the blood, like when people use an oxygen mask or nasal cannula connected to a tank. But the benefit of that for a healthy person going at normal baseline who doesn’t have an oxygen deficit, like from exercise, is, AFAIK, equivocal.

(2b) “Provision of nutrition from ambient sources” Again, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean like harvesting energy from incidental phenomena happening around us, like sunlight, wind, stray EM radiation, tides and things like that? If so, then you have a drastically different understanding of what the placenta is capable of than I do. I’m no placenta expert, by any means, but my understanding is that the placenta is basically a physical interface that allows maternal blood and fetal blood to come in very close proximity without actually mixing, thereby allowing selective bidirectional transfer of various things. Other than synthesize a few hormones and what not, it doesn’t really do anything. It certainly is not a harvester of ambient energy. I suppose a little heat could come across, if you set your attached placenta-in-a-box out in the sun or in a heated box. But you could probably get the same effect by laying in the sun or drinking a nice cup of cocoa. Furthermore, the type of energy you might get from ambient sources is not the type of energy the body runs on. We are heterotrophs, not autotrophs. What the body uses is energy contained in chemical bonds, extracted from molecules that other organisms have made.

(2c) The stem cell thing is interesting. There are, so I hear, a lot of stem cells in the placenta. Amazing things are being done with stem cells generally and undoubtedly more amazing things are to come. So, again, you may be onto something. But keeping your placenta attached for life and carrying it around in a liquid filled box would seem like an inconvenient way to take advantage of anything that might develop in that area. You already have stem cells in your bone marrow, so if at some time it becomes advantageous to kick your stem cells into action and get them to do things in addition to what they are already doing, a better approach might be to develop some way to stimulate the ones that are already there.

(2d) As far as adding a new sensory organ, again, the placenta just isn’t equipped for that. Sensory systems are mediated by neural elements, of which the placenta has none. It’d be like saying you want to use the liver as a sense organ. Sure, it responds to, or is affected by, what it’s exposed to, but I wouldn’t call that perception. It just…doesn’t work that way.

All of this begs the original question: Could you keep a placenta attached to a fully developed human and keep it going, whatever it might be doing, after that human and placenta have left the uterus? As I said before, in theory it seems like, if you really worked at it and solved all the problems that we know about now (like the Wharton’s jelly seizing up) in addition to the problems that would inevitably arise along the way, it might be possible. But unless you can provide some real “benefits” of doing so, I’m not convinced it’d be worth the hassle. (And we haven’t even addressed the liabilities it might entrail [sic].)

1a The conclusion I would draw, would be that they were unable to replicate the environment needed to maintain the placenta.
1b This seems like a likely stopgap measure, until natural transplantation is improved.
2a I will have to dig for the source, but I read that the exchange of oxygen is 10 times more efficient through the placenta, than through the brain. The current assumption is that the rate of oxygen saturation is ideal with lung respiration. I counter that increased access would facilitate development utilizing the relatively greater amount of resources. Conjecture at this point, but based in logic.
2b Not those sources, directly, rather, the agents suspended in the fluid that consume carbon dioxide and wastes, and exhaust oxygen and nutrients, and if needed, agents that carry those resources. Organic agents are preferable, as their corpses would return fully to the nutrient content. Red blood cells and algae, perhaps?
2c Stem cells may be present in other parts of the body, but only the placenta generates new ones, from my understanding. The difference is a full larder vs. a farm.
2d Sensory thresholds are tricky things, simply feeling anything new expands them. I may not be able to smell with my stomach, but it can tell me when the milk is bad.

How we do it may be in question, but whether or not we should stop cutting off baby body parts, is not.

Yes, it damn well is in question. You’ve offered no good reason to create an Ood race of placenta toting humans. This idea that you have that the placenta is a “baby body part” capable of magical oxygenation reads like you took a lot of acid and read one too many websites on Lotus Birth.

If you leave a placenta alone, it shrivels up and falls off the baby. That’s it. It’s a temporary organ. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. It does its job and then it dies when it’s done.

I am familiar with you, “hateful indifference”.

You lack imagination, hope, and most of all, love for the wondrous potential of existence.

You exert effort consuming and regurgitating stories of fear, in hopes of controlling others.

“You have no power here.” -King Theoden


In all seriousness, the placenta is part of the baby.

You say it is temporary, I disagree.

You say amputation is natural and desired, I say it is likely reactive to a hostile environment and undesirable.

I have read too many websites on Lotus birth, and artificial wombs, and placentophagy, and numerous other subjects related to the topic we are discussing here.

I am comfortable making the statements I am making, and legitimately curious about the potentials of the placenta.

If you have nothing to contribute to the discussion beyond a personal dislike toward an idea, know that your words will be afforded little consideration.

Oly took the time to compose a well thought out and informative response.

It is not as if you are lacking for role models.

Thank you for taking the time to read the thread, anyway.