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Placenta Problems in Pregnancy

Although we all hope to have a trouble free pregnancy, it is still wise to be informed about any potential problems that could occur, especially in the third trimester. There are several placenta problems that a mom-to-be could encounter and these could be serious and could even put your unborn child at risk.

What is the placenta?

The placenta is a multi-faceted but temporary organ that helps to nourish your baby and flush out excess wastes throughout the pregnancy. It is flat and shaped like a pancake with two sides – the maternal side attaches to the inside wall of your uterus while the other fetal side faces the baby and provides him with nourishment through the umbilical cord.

The maternal side comprises pools of your blood containing the oxygen and nutrients your baby needs to survive. The fetal side is made up of thousands of crisscrossing blood vessels which contain your baby’s blood and waste products. The placenta acts as a transfer agent (transferring oxygen and nutrients), as a filter (keeping waste and chemicals out of your baby’s system) and offers hormonal support. However, the placenta cannot provide complete protection from all dangerous products – you need to be aware that cigarette smoke, alcohol and certain medications can cross the placenta and of course this is why it is vitally important to avoid such products when you are pregnant.

Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider will be monitoring the health and development of your placenta. This is mainly done through ultrasound examinations. They will be looking for:

Placental grade which refers to the age of the placenta and which can be determined by the number of white spots found on the surface of the organ. Too many of these white spots for your baby’s age could be a sign that your placenta is aging too quickly.

Placental location which is where your placenta has attached to your uterus. Typically, this attachment is at the top of the uterus but it can be the back or front of the uterus.

Listed below are some placenta problems:

Placenta Previa is where the placenta covers, or is near, the cervical opening. If your placenta is very low in the uterus and covering your cervix, then your baby is prevented from entering the birth canal properly during labor and delivery. Placenta previa can be full or partial and can cause bleeding which may in turn necessitate early delivery and perhaps other problems. If you have placenta previa when it is time to deliver, you will need to have a C-section. However, the good news is that only about 10% of pregnant women still have the same condition when they come to deliver their baby. So it does often correct itself. But if the condition persists, you will be monitored very carefully especially for any vaginal bleeding. No intercourse, no vaginal examinations, having to rest and take it easy might be insisted upon. You might even be hospitalized.

Placenta Abruption is the early detachment of the placenta from the uterus, that is before labor and delivery. This can occur at any time during a pregnancy, but if it is going to happen, then most of the time it will take place during the 3rd trimester and, although in many cases this condition can be successfully treated, it does increase your chances of a preterm delivery.

Placenta Separation is the separation of the placenta from the lining of your uterus before delivery. Sadly, this can be extremely dangerous as the placenta is the life support system for your baby and such separation can affect the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your baby. The symptoms of this condition include vaginal bleeding, tenderness of the uterus, unexpected and rapid contractions, pain in the abdomen and abnormalities with the baby’s heart. If such separation is partial, the mother-to-be will most likely be put on bed rest and monitored closely. There may be other treatments as well. There are certain risks which can raise the chances of placenta separation taking place and these include: cocaine use; preeclampsia, twin or multiple pregnancies, trauma to the abdomen, uterine abnormalities and if you are over the age of 35.

Placenta Accreta is a very rare type of placental complication. It occurs when the placenta attaches too firmly to the uterine wall, making it impossible to deliver. Placenta accrete can occasionally result in uterine rupture or bleeding.

The Placenta at the birth

If all is well when you come to deliver your baby, then the placenta still plays an important role. After your baby is born, your body will continue to experience contractions but on a less painful level. During these contractions your placenta will separate from the wall of your uterus and start to move down the birth canal. You will once again feel that urge to push and within 30 minutes of the birth of your baby, you will deliver the placenta. It is important that the placenta be delivered as intact as possible because if any pieces remain behind, an infection could result. Signs of such infection could include uterine tenderness, bleeding or fever and such signs should be pointed out to your health care provider.

Obviously every pregnancy is different and this article serves to give you some background to the placenta as well as the problems which can occasionally occur. Your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider are there to advise and guide you through the months of your pregnancy – you should never feel awkward about contacting them with your queries or concerns.