The placenta is an organ that clinicians and embryologists would all agree is important for pregnancy success. Unfortunately, however, they too often ignore it when they are exploring causes for embryonic, fetal and perinatal complications. The core function of the placenta is to mediate the transport of nutrients between the maternal and fetal circulation, but it also has critical endocrine functions that alter different maternal physiological systems in order to sustain pregnancy. Both its development and ongoing functions can be dynamically regulated by environmental factors, including nutrient status and tissue oxygenation. In recent years, mainstream attention has begun to shift onto the placenta and it is now becoming clear that placental pathology is associated with several complications in human and animal pregnancies, including embryonic lethality, fetal growth restriction, pre-eclampsia and the high rates of fetal deaths observed after nuclear transfer (cloning).