The Placenta – What is it, Common Positions & Complications

Placenta: what is it, what are the common positions and what are the most common placental problems?

The placenta is a female body organ which develops in the uterus during pregnancy. This organ provides nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby and takes out waste substances from the baby’s blood. The placenta conjoins to the uterus wall, and the baby’s umbilical cord comes from it. This organ is often attached to the side, top, back or front of the uterus. In a few cases, the placenta may attach to the lower uterine area (placenta Praevia).

Nutrients and oxygen pass from the blood supply to the placenta. Then the umbilical cord takes the nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby. Waste substances from the unborn baby, like carbon dioxide, pass back through the umbilical cord into the placenta and goes into the bloodstream, for the body to properly dispose of them. The placenta makes hormones which enable the baby’s development and growth. Also, the placenta provides absolute protection from infection for the baby, safeguarding the baby from harmful bacteria.

Nevertheless, it does not protect the baby from viruses. Nicotine, alcohol and other harmful drugs could as well cross the placenta causing damages to the unborn baby. Towards delivery, the placenta gives antibodies from the mother to the baby, providing them immunity for the first three months following birth. Although, it only transfers the antibodies which you have.


When a woman is pregnant, the placenta develops and gets attached to the uterus wall and could be in various positions. The many possible placenta positions include:


This position occurs when the egg which is fertilized attaches itself to the uterus backside, the placenta then develops and begin to grow on the uterus back wall. This placenta position is called the posterior placenta.


The position occurs when the fertilized egg joins itself to the uterus front side, the placenta also develops on the womb’s front wall, and the unborn baby develops behind it. This placenta position is called the anterior placenta.


A situation whereby the placenta develops towards the cervix or the uterus lower end. This placenta position is referred to as placenta previa.


During pregnancy, common placenta problems include placenta accreta, placenta abruption and placenta previa. These placenta problems could cause heavy bleeding of the vagina.  The placenta could become a serious cause of concern, especially when it is getting close to the due date and the placenta  is still not in the right position.  Here are some common problems of the placenta:


If the placenta wears out from the uterus’ inner wall before childbirth, either completely or partially, a condition commonly known as placental abruption takes place. This could prevent the baby from getting sufficient nutrients and oxygen and can cause the mother to lose a lot of blood during delivery. Placenta abruption could lead to an early delivery. Click here to read more information about who is at risk for placental abruption.


This condition happens if the placenta totally or partially covers the cervix. Placenta previa is very common in early pregnancy and may go away as the uterus expands during the third trimester. But if it doesn’t, placenta previa could cause serious vaginal bleeding during childbirth or pregnancy. The situation could be controlled based on how far the pregnancy has gone, the severity of the bleeding, the placenta position, and the health of both the mother and the baby. Your doctor will advise a C-section if placenta previa gets out of hands. Click here to get more information about the risks, causes and common treatments for placenta previa.


If the placenta couldn’t come out within the first 30 minutes after delivery, it is referred to as retained placenta. A retained placenta usually occurs as a result of the placenta being trapped behind a nearly closed cervix or due to the placenta still being joined to the uterus wall either deeply (placenta accreta) or loosely (adherent placenta). If left untreated, this problem could result in a severe infection or lead to life-threatening blood loss.


Placental insufficiency is a condition where the placenta fails to provide enough nutrients to the unborn baby during pregnancy. This may be caused by a failure of the placenta to grow or function properly. It can result in restriction of fetal growth and low birth weight.

Placental insufficiency has no known symptoms but the unborn baby may move less frequently than expected. A restriction of the growth of the fetus can be detected when the healthcare provider measures the height of the top of the uterus, known as the fundus. An ultrasound is used to monitor the condition and size of the placenta and the baby’s health.


A placental infarction results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the placenta, causing its cells to die. Small placental infarcts, especially at the edge of the placental disc, are considered to be normal at term. Infarcts are caused by a problem with the placenta’s vessels. Infarcts do not affect the unborn baby but for women with severe hypertension, the reduced blood flow in the placenta is enough to cause poor growth and even death of the unborn baby.

Signs and symptoms of placental problems

When you notice any of these following signs and symptoms, it is best that you seek medical help from your doctor:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Uterine contractions

Such symptoms may indicate a problem with the placenta and you will need immediate help for that.

How to reduce the risk of placental problems

Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent some of the placental problems. Nonetheless, you can take certain steps and measures to promote a healthy pregnancy. These include:

  • Visiting your health care provider on a regular basis throughout the period of your pregnancy
  • Working with a health provider to manage any health conditions like high blood pressure which may have a negative effect on the placenta
  • Restraining from the use of illegal drugs and substances including smoking
  • Consulting with a health provider on how to reduce any risk of repeat placental problems in case you have had a placental problem during a previous pregnancy.
  • Telling your healthcare provider that you have had surgery done on your uterus before so that they can expect to monitor your condition closely throughout the pregnancy.

What affects the health of the placenta?

There are various factors that can affect the health of the placenta during pregnancy. These factors include:

1.Maternal age

The age of a pregnant woman can have an effect on the placenta. Older women, especially above the age of 40 are more likely to suffer from certain placental problems.

2. Premature rupture of the membranes

At the time of pregnancy, a baby is usually surrounded and cushioned by a fluid-filled membrane which is known as the amniotic sac. The fluid in the sac is known as amniotic fluid and performs vital functions for the baby. In case the sac leaks or breaks before the onset of labor, the risk of certain placental problems becomes higher.

3. High blood pressure

A woman’s blood pressure can affect the placenta and her baby. High blood pressure will have a negative effect on the placenta because it causes a buildup of blood pressure in the nerves and veins of the placenta which are narrow and thin.

4. Multiple pregnancies

The number of pregnancies that a woman carries has an effect on the placenta. The more the number of babies she carries at one time such as twins or triplets, the higher the risk of certain placental problems.

5. Blood-clotting disorder

A condition that either impairs the ability of your blood to clot or increases the likelihood of clotting increases the risk of a number of placental problems.

6. Previous uterine surgery

If a woman has had previous surgery done on the uterus for example a C-section or a surgery to remove fibroids, they are at more risk of suffering from certain placental problems.

7. Previous placental problems

A history of placental problems in previous pregnancies for a woman means an increased risk of suffering from the same condition.

8. Substance abuse

Smoking and using illegal drugs like cocaine during pregnancy increase the chances of certain placental problems. Read more about how and why you should stop smoking during pregnancy.

9. Abdominal trauma

Abdominal trauma involves activities or instances that cause injury and trauma to the abdomen such as a fall or any other type of blow to the belly whilst pregnant. Such trauma increases the risk of the placenta separating prematurely from the uterus, a condition known as placenta abruption.

How the placenta is delivered

Vaginal delivery of a baby means that the placenta will also be delivered through the vagina. This is known as the third stage of labor. After your push and give birth to your baby, you will still experience some mild contractions. Your doctor may prescribe to you some oxytocin to reduce the postpartum bleeding. He or she may also massage your lower abdomen so as to encourage the uterus to contract and expel the placenta. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to push one more time after the baby has come out. This last push is in order to deliver the placenta. For C-section birth, the health care provider will remove the placenta from the uterus during the procedure. He will then examine if the placenta is intact so that any remaining fragments may be removed. Otherwise, if some parts of the placenta remain, they may cause internal bleeding or infection.

The placenta is very vital for the growth and development of the baby. It is integral for your baby’s health and for this reason you need to be alert about any indications of a problem with your placenta and seek medical help as soon as possible.


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