During pregnancy, the placenta and the umbilical cord play distinct but interconnected roles in fetal development. With expanding interest in the therapeutic applications of umbilical cord blood, it is essential to understand the differences between the placenta vs. umbilical cord, which differ in structure, function, and lifespan despite both being necessary for fetal development.
The placenta and umbilical cord are not merely anatomical structures; they are the lifelines that nourish the developing embryo, making their understanding paramount. Let’s understand how the placenta differs from the umbilical cord and how each contributes to pregnancy and the baby’s development process.
What is a placenta?
The placenta is a unique temporary organ that develops within the uterus during pregnancy. The placenta is the interface for an intricate exchange of nutrients, gases, and debris between the mother’s and baby’s bloodstreams. The placenta is often called the “life support system” for the developing embryo. Attached to the inner wall of the uterus, the placenta is made of maternal and fetal tissues that function together seamlessly.
On the fetal side, small protrusions called villi extend from the placenta into the mother’s bloodstream, significantly increasing the transfer surface area between the two circulations. This efficient exchange via the placenta is essential to sustain rapid fetal growth in the protected womb environment.
What is the umbilical cord?
The umbilical cord is a vital connection between the developing baby and the placenta that develops early in pregnancy. It contains two arteries and one vein, all surrounded by Wharton’s jelly, a white covering. The umbilical cord transports oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood from the placenta to the baby and then returns with deoxygenated blood containing waste products.
The elastic umbilical cord, which measures approximately 50 centimeters on average, can extend and bend to facilitate normal fetal movement. After delivery, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut from the newborn baby. Some parents now opt for umbilical cord preservation to reserve the blood contained within, which is known to contain valuable cord blood stem cells.
These stem cells have therapeutic potential equal to bone marrow transplants and are currently used to treat more than 80 diseases, like autism, cerebral palsy, congenital heart defects, Parkinson’s, Leukemia, Thalassemia, Sickle Cell Disease, and different types of cancers.
Key Difference Between Placenta and Umbilical Cord
The placenta and umbilical cord are vital organs during pregnancy but have distinct characteristics. Below is a comparison of their most significant differences:
|Inside the uterus, attached to the inner wall||Connects the developing baby in the amniotic sac to the placenta|
|Thick organ with maternal and fetal tissues||Blood vessels in a protective sheath|
|Discarded after birth, as it is no longer needed||Cut and as per parent’s wish, the cord blood is stored, otherwise, it is discarded.|
|Exchanges nutrients, gasses, and waste between mother and baby||Transports substances between the placenta and the developing baby|
While both the placenta and umbilical cord are essential in supporting fetal growth and development, they differ in significant ways, as we have discussed. As interest in the therapeutic potential of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood increases, it is more crucial than ever before to understand these distinct yet complementary pregnancy organs.