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There are several things that happen to the placenta after birth takes place. Just after the baby is born, the placenta is still attached to the uterine wall, so the organ will contract to cause it to separate. Once it detaches and starts to descend, the mother will need to push again to expel it from her body. This entire process, also known as the third stage of labor, may occur naturally or may need to be helped along by a doctor. Once the placenta is delivered, depending on culture or preference, it may be disposed of in a variety of ways.
The first thing that happens to the placenta after birth is separation from the uterine wall. Although labor pains will have stopped at this point, the uterus will begin contracting again to start this process, and the woman may feel discomfort and cramping. Other signs that the placenta is separating from the uterus include firming and enlarging of the uterus, an extra gush of blood from the vagina, and more of the umbilical cord becoming visible.
Delivery of the placenta after birth typically occurs about 15 to 30 minutes postpartum, although it can take as long as an hour. Once it detaches from the uterus, the placenta will start to move down into the birth canal. At this point, most women will feel the urge to push, which will help them to expel it from their bodies.
While some women are able to expel the placenta after birth with little or no assistance, in some cases medical intervention is necessary. The doctor or midwife may need to help it come out by massaging or putting pressure on the woman's abdomen. In some cases, the placenta will not come out at all, a condition called retained placenta, and the doctor may need to go in and remove it manually. A drug called oxytocin may be administered to help the uterus contract, which in turn closes off any open blood vessels left by the placental separation and minimizes bleeding.
Disposal of the placenta after birth can occur in many ways, typically depending on one's culture and personal preferences. It may simply be discarded as medical waste. In some cultures, it is traditional to bury it, and maybe even plant something like a tree in that location. Others encourage the mother to eat the placenta, a practice called placentophagy.