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A healthy pregnancy requires a healthy placenta. What can go wrong with the placenta during pregnancy, birth and postpartum — and how are placental problems diagnosed and managed?

Some women think of the placenta as a disgusting mass of flesh and blood they'd rather not see, while others celebrate it by burying it and planting a tree in its honor. There is even such a thing as placentophagia, a practice in which the new mother eats her baby's placenta!


Whatever you personally think of the placenta, you've got to admit that it's quite miraculous. It's the only organ we grow for temporary use and then discard when we're born.

During pregnancy, a human fetus is completely dependent on it.

When something goes wrong with a placenta it can have disastrous consequences. What should you know about placental complications, their symptoms and treatment?

Placenta Previa

The placenta starts forming at the very spot an embryo first implants. Placenta previa is a complication in which the placenta sits at an unusually low spot within the uterine cavity. The placenta is dangerously close to the cervix with a partial placenta previa, while a complete placenta previa means the placenta actually covers the cervix. 

Both cases pose a serious problem. The baby still depends on the placenta during labor and birth, and would not get oxygen without it.

Since the baby needs to pass through the cervix to be born,  women who have placenta previa need a scheduled cesarean section before their baby's due date. 

The location of a baby's placenta is recorded during a routine ultrasound somewhere between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy. Don't be terrified if your ultrasound shows that you have a low-lying placenta at this time, because there is a chance it will "move up", away from the cervix, later on in the pregnancy. While the placenta itself will not move, the uterus does expand and a low-lying placenta during the second trimester of pregnancy may well move out of the way because of this. 

Placenta previa is one of the most common causes of vaginal bleeding during the second and third trimesters. The placenta is an extremely blood-rich environment, and bleeding becomes increasingly likely as your baby grows and puts pressure on it. 

Women who notice vaginal bleeding should always inform their healthcare provider as soon as possible to ensure they can receive the best possible treatment. If you are diagnosed with placenta previa and experience bleeding, you may need to take it easy. You should abstain from sex and vigorous exercise and could even require bed rest. 

Placental Abruption

Placental abruption is a situation in which the placenta starts to detach from the uterine wall during pregnancy or labor. It can be partial or complete and deprives the baby of oxygen and nutrients. The tell-tale signs are abdominal pain, bleeding, and sometimes back pain.

The exact cause of a placental abruption isn't clear at this point, but we do know what the the risk factors are: smoking during pregnancy, drug use, high blood pressure and being an older mom.

It's treatment depends on the extent to which the placenta detached and the stage of pregnancy. If you are not close to your due date, the placenta only detached partially and your baby appears to be growing normally, careful monitoring may be the only treatment. A heavier degree of detachment and a more advanced stage of pregnancy will likely mean your doctor is going to recommend a c-section to deliver your baby. 

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