Placental insufficiency is a serious complication that can take place during pregnancy, especially if it happens early on.
It is one of the placenta problems, which means that it is related to the placenta, the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to the baby.
The placenta is an essential organ in pregnancy, and, unfortunately, it can present several malfunctions and abnormalities, such as placenta previa or placenta accreta. Those malfunctions need to be carefully considered and monitored by the doctors, since the placenta is an essential organ for the wellbeing of your baby: it’s the one that filters toxins so they don’t reach the foetus and the one in charge of supplying him with nutrients and oxygen.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to have placental insufficiency.
What is placental insufficiency?
Placental insufficiency, also called uteroplacental insufficiency or placental dysfunction, is the medical name given to the condition in which your placenta doesn’t work completely and is not able to fully develop its functions, causing a blood flow disorder in the form of less blood supply from the mother.
Of course, the fact that the placenta doesn’t work properly can have consequences for the baby: The little one could be born with low birth weight, show signs of foetal stress or be premature, and in the most severe cases it could cause birth defects. This is why it is so important to detect placental insufficiency soon enough.
What causes it?
There’s a number of reasons why you may develop placental insufficiency. Some of them are related to bad habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs. However, even having the healthiest of lives doesn’t free you from the risk, since other possible causes are:
- High blood pressure or preeclampsia
- Having blood clots as a result of suffering a medical condition
Finally, there is another cause of placental insufficiency, the most common when it happens late in the pregnancy: your baby being overdue. The placenta has an expiration date, and placental insufficiency is one of the common consequences of still being pregnant past your due date, and one of the reasons for most induced labours.
What are the symptoms of placental insufficiency?
If you suffer from placental insufficiency, you probably won’t notice any symptoms, since there aren’t any. The only noticeable thing is that your belly is not growing properly, something the doctor will realise when measuring you during your visits. If you’re not in your first pregnancy, you could notice it yourself, by comparing the baby bump to your previous pregnancy or pregnancies.
Another symptom is that the baby isn’t moving much, but still, it is not a reliable sign of placental insufficiency, since all babies are different and some are more active than others.
How will I know if I have placental insufficiency, then?
Well, here you can see the importance of getting proper antenatal care! Placental insufficiency can be detected through several tests, such as an ultrasound to measure the size of the organ or the ultrasounds to monitor the size of the baby-to-be. It can also be diagnosed with a blood test to measure the alpha-fetoprotein in the mother’s blood or a foetal non-stress test. Sometimes, the routine pregnancy scans will be enough to detect placental insufficiency.
Is there a placental insufficiency treatment?
Yes, but the placental insufficiency treatment will depend much on how far along you are and how your pregnancy is developing. For instance, if you’re past 37 weeks, your doctor may decide that the best thing to do is to deliver the baby, since at that stage he is already considered to be fully formed. The delivery could be induced or you could have a C-section, depending on your preferences and what your doctor thinks is best.
That decision could be made also in an earlier stage if the tests show that your baby isn’t doing good. However, if it happens before week 32, the mother can have steroid injections prescribed, which will help strengthen the foetus’ lungs.
If your baby is still not ready to be born and seems to be doing well enough, the treatment will be different. Your doctor will monitor you often and will perform tests to make sure the baby is still doing OK, and they will recommend bed rest so all your energy goes to him. They can also treat the conditions that may be causing the placental insufficiency, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
What are the possible complications of placental insufficiency?
While placental insufficiency isn’t dangerous for the future mother, it can have some consequences for the baby, such as the ones stated above: foetal distress (heart problems) or low birth weight. Besides, the baby could be premature and the mother could have a harder delivery.
However, if placental insufficiency is detected and you get proper treatment, you shouldn’t worry. Both you and your baby will be closely monitored and the doctors will help so the situation resolves happily.