Life support systems produced by the latest technology, used in most hospitals and valued at millions of dollars, are primitive and nearly useless when compared with a piece of flesh weighing only a few kilograms. This piece of flesh is the placenta, called by scientists “the real hero of birth”. 1
At a particular time the embryo begins to take nutrients, oxygen and other material from the mother’s blood. The placenta, which is created to supply all the needs of the developing foetus, acts as a bridge ensuring the passage of this material between the mother and the foetus (From the beginning of the third month, the embryo is called a foetus). The placenta is filled with soft blood vessels which will carry to the baby the nutrient material seeping from among the trophoblast cells; it sends all this nutrient material, oxygen, and important minerals such as iron and calcium that come from the mother, first to the umbilical cord and then to the capillary vessels of the foetus. Moreover, the placenta not only ensures the supply of nutrients needed for the metabolism of the foetus, it also chooses and transports to the foetus the nutrients needed for the formation of its tissues. 2. Amino acids are required by the foetus for all kinds of syntheses (carbohydrates, nucleic acids the building blocks of DNA, fats, etc.) The placenta selects these elements and takes them from the mother’s blood. This is generally done by special carriers. It stores the elements, uses what is necessary for itself and sends a portion of them into the blood of the foetus. Besides the nutrients, ions pass through the placenta; two of these are especially important for the foetus, and it is necessary that they be stored in large quantities. Of these, one is iron, needed to increase the blood volume; the other is calcium, required for the development of the bones. The transfer of these elements is particularly effective: even if the mother has consumed little iron, the placenta extracts the amount required from the mother’s blood, supplies the baby’s needs and protects it from every kind of danger. 3
The placenta also expertly performs the reverse operation, carrying waste material from the foetus to the mother’s blood.
It must not be forgotten that the placenta, which we have described as “choosing”, “taking”‘ “storing” and “carrying” is a tissue composed of cells. It is the placenta which performs all the activities denoted by the verbs listed above; for example, it knows that there is a need for iron, and it is able to choose the element iron from among other substances and it knows how the iron it selects will be used. It is not a human being which has this knowledge but a collection of cells called the placenta. The cells which constitute the placenta recognize the material they need and are able to select it, and the fact that a cell can recognize an element is surely a miracle. In addition to recognizing this element, it is even more miraculous that it can take the appropriate material in the required amount and carry it to a particular location. The information given so far and that will follow must always be appreciated with this in mind.
The events that occur in the miracle of human creation indicate a consciousness displayed by the cells, and by the molecules and atoms that produce the cells. Indeed, this consciousness does not belong to any of them, but to God Who creates them and inspires in them the functions that they are to perform.
Other Vital Functions of the Placenta
The umbilical cord, which joins the foetus to the placenta has three blood vessels and looks like a long rope. One of these blood vessels is called the umbilical vein. It sends blood containing nutrient material and oxygen from the placenta to the baby. The other two of these vessels are called the umbilical arteries which transport blood containing carbon dioxide and waste produced from the nutrient material from the baby to the placenta.
Due to the strong and flexible structure of the umbilical cord, it does not coil and cramp easily. It is very important that there be no problem with the delivery of blood. Moreover, the flexible structure of the cord makes it possible for the baby to move.
One of the most important functions of the placenta is to secrete the hormones (eg. oestrogen and progesterone) required by the foetus. Of these hormones, progesterone has a special effect on decreasing the contractility of the uterus in the mother’s body and gives physical support to the baby. In order for the baby’s development to continue, it makes possible the formation of the most comfortable environment. Moreover, it allows the development of the milk glands in the mother’s breasts and, at the right time, helps in the production of milk. Besides this, it gives support by boosting the mother’s metabolism, thus contributing to her health and comfort.
Together with all these functions, the placenta ensures that the baby is immune to any infections that may occur in the last three months of the pregnancy.
What we have described up to this point are only a few of the functions undertaken by the placenta during the development of the baby. And, in everything that we have described here, there is an unimaginable amount of detail. Every system depends on the functioning of many complex chemical operations.
Moreover, every new research conducted about the development of the foetus reveals a new function that the placenta performs on behalf of the baby. But in all this there is a common point. Every activity of the placenta binds the mother and the embryo to each other in a perfectly harmonious union. This union is of the greatest importance because, if even one of the balances ensured in the mother’s body were to be upset, the embryo could not survive.
The fact that an organ formed from cells is aware of the needs of a living thing, determines what is needed and acts with the knowledge of how to supply the need; and the fact that this organ can produce the required material in the correct proportion, select and appropriate it from outside; in short, that such an organ can display conscious activity is not something that it can do by its own unaided efforts. For example, if a human being were required to perform the same function, he would not be able to do it.
But these duties that a human being cannot perform, can be effected efficiently and flawlessly by this organ we call the placenta. And the placenta of every one of the millions of human beings who have lived throughout thousands of years has demonstrated the same deep awareness and perfect performance. Indeed, the perfect structure of the placenta and its conscious activities are the result of God’s creating it with all of these characteristics. To claim the opposite would be to step beyond the limits of intelligence. With the excellent design that He has created in the human body, God shows us His incomparable art, and commands us in the Qur’an to consider these truths:
He is Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything in between them, so worship Him and persevere in His worship. Do you know of any other worthy of His Name? Man says, “When I am dead, will I then be again raised to life?” Does not man recall that We created him before when he was not anything? (Qur’an, 19: 65 67)
- Intimate Universe, The Human Body, vol. 1, 1998, British Broadcasting Corporation.
2. Guyton, A.C. & Hall, J.E. (2000) Textbook of Medical Physiology, (10th ed.). Harcourt International Ed., PA. p. 946.
3. Science et Vie, March 1995, No.190, pp. 119 120.