The placenta is one of the most important organs during pregnancy, but since it is so essential, there are some placenta problems that could endanger the health of mum and baby.
The placenta is the organ that supplies the baby with oxygen and nourishment, and it does so through the umbilical cord. It also serves as filter for all the toxins and pernicious substances: it works as a barrier to prevent them from reaching your baby-to-be.
Considering how important those functions are, it’s easy to understand why placenta problems can be dangerous! However, not all placental abnormalities affect their function. The placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus, and stays there during the whole pregnancy. Right after the baby is born, the mother has to deliver it as well, in what constitutes the third stage of labour. Some placenta problems are related to where the placenta attaches or how, and others are related to the stage of delivery.
In this article, we’re going to look into the most common placenta problems in detail, so don’t miss the following lines if you want to learn the possible abnormalities that this important organ could suffer.
Placenta problems: Placental insufficiency
As we’ve mentioned, the different placental abnormalities can be related to the malfunctioning of the placenta, its position or its delivery. Placental insufficiency, the first of the placenta problems we’re going to talk about, is related to its function: it just means that the placenta isn’t working as well as it should.
And what does that mean? Well, when there is a case of placental insufficiency, the baby may not be getting all the oxygen and nutrients that he needs, which can translate into less growth or development, or foetal stress – that is, his heart not working well enough. It can also cause you to have a harder labour.
There are many reasons why your placenta may not be working, such as diabetes, high blood pressure in pregnancy or preeclampsia, among others. But it is also a common consequence of smoking or taking drugs during pregnancy, and a common side effect of your baby being overdue. The placenta has a limited life, and it starts “growing old” once you reach your due date. Actually, placental insufficiency is one of the reasons why doctors decide to induce labour.
The treatment for placental insufficiency will depend on how far along you are in your pregnancy. The doctors may decide to deliver your baby if you’re past week 37, and if you’re not, they will monitor you closely to see how the baby is doing.
Placenta problems: Placenta previa
Placenta previa or placenta praevia, is one of the placenta problems related to the position of the placenta inside your uterus. Normally, the placenta will attach to the side or the top of the womb, but in the case of placenta previa, it will do so in the lower part. This means that it will cover part of the cervix, which is where your baby will have to go through to be born!
There are several degrees of placenta previa, and as much as 15% of future mummies could experience it to some degree during the second trimester of their pregnancies. The most complicated cases could cause cramps and bleeding, as well as the baby being in breech position.
Treatment of placenta previa will consist on rest and close monitoring, as well as delivering the baby by C-section whenever that is necessary – which is actually quite often.
Placenta problems: Anterior placenta
Anterior placenta is another one of the placenta problems related to the position of the placenta. In this case, the organ will attach to the front wall of your uterus instead that to the posterior wall, closest to the spine, which is its normal position.
Anterior placenta is one of the least serious placenta problems since it won’t cause any trouble for you or for the baby – the baby will just change positions, and the only hassle for you will be that it may be harder to feel him move and kick, since the placenta will be in the way. However, it can pose problems if you need to do an amniocentesis, and the doctors will still have to monitor you: Anterior placenta is the first step towards placenta previa, which you could develop later on in your pregnancy.
Placenta problems: Placenta accreta
Placenta accreta isn’t one of the placenta problems related to where the placenta is located in the womb: it is an abnormality related to how the placenta is located, meaning, how it embeds to the uterus. In fact, placenta accreta happens when the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterus. This is a dangerous condition, especially for the mother, since it can cause a haemorrhage during delivery if it’s not detected.
There are several degrees of placenta accreta. The most serious is placenta percreta, in which the placenta is so deeply attached to the womb that the blood vessels could even end up invading the nearest organs.
If you suffer from placenta accreta, your baby will probably be fine, but it is one of the worse placenta problems for the future mummy. Doctors usually have to perform a hysterectomy due to the impossibility of separating uterus and placenta, which consists in completely removing the uterus – and unfortunately, that means the mother won’t be able to have another baby. Of course, if the placenta accreta is detected you will have to deliver your baby through C-section, to avoid the blood loss.
Placenta problems: Placental abruption
The next condition in our list of placenta problems is placental abruption, also called abruptio placentae. It happens when the placenta detaches from the womb before the baby is delivered, which can be very dangerous. The placenta is the organ that supplies your baby with oxygen and nutrients, and he can’t survive without it – so you can see how dangerous it can be.
The causes of placental abruption aren’t entirely clear, although among the risk factors, you will find high blood pressure, diabetes, bleeding or having suffered from it before. Other common causes are accidents or traumas. However, keep in mind that placental abruption is one of the least common placenta problems.
The outcome, though, isn’t clear, and it will depend much on how far along in your pregnancy you are. Unfortunately, it is one of the main causes of foetal death during the last trimester of pregnancy. If your pregnancy is advanced enough, the doctor will perform an emergency C-section. If the abruption is minor, you will have to rest until your baby can be born.
It’s very important to detect placental abruption on time, which is why you should know the symptoms: bleeding and a sharp pain, as well as signs of labour such as contractions or back pain.
Placenta problems: Retained placenta
Finally, the last of our placenta problems, retained placenta. This condition is also related to “expelling” the placenta, and we could say that it’s the opposite situation to placental abruption. If the latter consisted in the placenta detaching from the wall of the uterus too soon, retained placenta happens when the organ or part of it stays attached to the uterus after the baby has been born. This can happen for several reasons, such as uterine abnormalities, placenta accrete or your cervix closing too soon, which could trap the remaining placenta inside.
Your doctor will try to remove the remaining placenta with medication, and if it doesn’t work, they will probably try to do it manually. If they don’t detect it, you could expel the pieces of placenta naturally after birth. However, that doesn’t always happen, so you’ll need to watch out for the symptoms after birth: cramps, bleeding, foul vaginal discharge and even a fever.
As you can see, there is quite a wide variety of placenta problems that you can suffer. Having one of these isn’t an uncommon complication of pregnancy, but don’t panic: Still, the majority of women don’t have any of these, and if they do, most times the problem can be controlled by the doctors and the outcome is good.