Afterbirth is an alterative name for the placenta. As its name suggests, the afterbirth is delivered by the woman shortly after she has given birth to her baby.
This can happen naturally, by the uterus contracting and pushing the afterbirth out. Putting the baby to the breast can also speed up delivery of the after birth as the baby's suckling will cause the woman's body to release a hormone called oxytocin. This helps the uterus to contract.
Alternatively, delivery of the afterbirth can be stimulated by an oxytocic drug. This is injected into the woman's leg straight after the baby's birth and causes the uterus to contract and expel the afterbirth.
In some cases, the afterbirth can cause complications. Occasionally it will fail to separate from the wall of the uterus, or a small piece may be left attached to the wall of the uterus. This can cause heavy bleeding and infection, and can be a serious medical issue if left untreated. For this reason, a midwife will carefully check the afterbirth to ensure that it has completely detached from the uterus.
If the afterbirth fails to appear, it will need to be removed manually. This procedure is undertaken in an operating theatre, and involves an obstetrician separating the afterbirth from the uterus and easing it out. It is done under a spinal aesthetic and the woman will be given antibiotics after the procedure to minimise the risk of infection.
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