Dr Glenda McLaren
Obstetrician & Gynaecologist

Placental Complications

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The Role of the Placenta During Pregnancy

The placenta is a temporary organ that develops during pregnancy and attaches to the wall of your uterus (top, side, front or back) to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your baby through the umbilical cord.

Unhealthy or dangerous substances consumed by a pregnant woman such as alcohol, nicotine, medicines and other drugs can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s health.

The placenta plays an essential role; it also carries waste products from your baby back to your blood, as well as producing some hormones that are needed during pregnancy.

Due to its important role in a pregnancy, it is important that the placenta is healthy during pregnancy. If something goes wrong with the placenta, (during pregnancy, birth and after birth) it can potentially be dangerous to both mother and baby.

Potential Complications with the Placenta

Placenta Praevia

Placenta Praevia is where the placenta grows low in the uterus, near to, or covering the cervix – potentially blocking the baby’s way out. Placenta Praevia occurs in approximately 5% of pregnancies and should be checked if you experience any bleeding after 20 weeks. Diagnosis of Placenta Praevia is made with an ultrasound scan.

Depending on the severity, you may need a Caesarian Section to deliver your baby.

Placenta Accreta

Placenta Accreta occurs when the placenta grows deeply into the muscular uterus wall. It occurs in approximately 0.2% of pregnancies. It is diagnosed on ultrasound scan and is clinically suspected when the placenta implants on an old uterine scar.

Serial ultrasound scans will determine the best time to deliver and an early delivery by caesarean section with a hysterectomy is usually required.

Placental Insufficiency

Placental Insufficiency occurs when the placenta doesn’t work properly during pregnancy. It deprives the baby of oxygen and nutrients they need to grow and develop.

Your OB will keep a close eye on how your baby is developing and you will likely need more frequent ultrasounds and have regular monitoring of your baby’s heart rate.

Retained Placenta

Retained Placenta is when your placenta does not completely come out after the birth. This might be because it is stopped by your cervix or is still attached to your uterus.

If you have just given birth, retained placenta might be treated by emptying your bladder or your doctor gently pulling on the umbilical cord.

In some cases you will need a surgical procedure to remove the placenta after the birth.

Placental Abruption

Placental Abruption occurs when some or all the placenta comes away from the wall of the uterus before your baby is born. It can cause pain and bleeding and can result in serious complications.

An Abruption is considered a medical emergency, and you will need to go to hospital immediately. You and your baby will be watched closely and depending on the severity additional monitoring and examinations will be done.

Read more about the role of the placenta and possible complications here.

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