The placenta is a temporary fetomaternal organ capable of supporting fetal growth and development during pregnancy. In particular, abnormal development and dysfunction of the placenta due to cha nges in the proliferation, differentiation, cell death, and invasion of trophoblasts induce several gynecological diseases as well as abnormal fetal development. Autophagy is a catalytic process that maintains cellular structures by recycling building blocks derived from damaged microorganelles or proteins resulting from digestion in lysosomes. Additionally, autophagy is necessary to maintain homeostasis during cellular growth, development, and differentiation, and to protect cells from nutritional deficiencies or factors related to metabolism inhibition. Induced autophagy by various environmental factors has a dual role: it facilitates cellular survival in normal conditions, but the cascade of cellular death is accelerated by over-activated autophagy. Therefore, cellular death by autophagy has been known as programmed cell death type II. Autophagy causes or inhibits cellular death via the other mechanism, apoptosis, which is programmed cell death type I. Recently, it has been reported that autophagy increases in placenta-related obstetrical diseases such as preeclampsia and intrauterine growth retardation, although the mechanisms are still unclear. In particular, abnormal autophagic mechanisms prevent trophoblast invasion and inhibit trophoblast functions. Therefore, the objectives of this review are to examine the characteristics and functions of autophagy and to investigate the role of autophagy in the placenta and the trophoblast as a regulator of cell death.