During pregnancy, the placenta transfers oxygen and blood to the fetus. If there are complications with the placenta during pregnancy or delivery, it can cause injury and even death to the fetus. It is possible for medical professionals to diagnose and treat placental complications before the health of the baby is threatened in many cases, however. The prognosis for placental birth injuries is greatly improved with early diagnosis and treatment.

Types of Placental Birth Injuries

There are three main types of placental complications that can cause birth injuries: placental previa, placental abruption, and placental insufficiency. Placental previa is caused by the placenta moving towards the bottom of the womb and covering the cervix. Placental abruption is when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus. Placental insufficiency occurs when the placenta cannot deliver the needed blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the fetus.

Placental Birth Injury Causes

The cause of placental complications is not always known. In many cases, placental abruption is caused by physical trauma during pregnancy. Placental previa is caused by the failure of the placenta to move from the cervix area to a higher spot in the womb, as is the case in most pregnancies. Placental insufficiency can be caused by factors such as excessive maternal weight gain, maternal blood disorders, and gestational diabetes that block the flow of blood and oxygen from the placenta to the baby.

Placental Complications Risk Factors

There are many factors that may increase the risk of all types of placental complications, including:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Infections
  • Cocaine use
  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy after age 35
  • Pregnancy with multiple children
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • History of placental complications
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • More than five past deliveries

Placental Birth Injury Symptoms

Pain and tenderness in the abdomen are common symptoms of placental complications. Vaginal bleeding is common in placental previa, usually beginning between the second and third trimester. Vaginal bleeding can be a symptom of placental abruption, but does not always accompany the condition. Both conditions may also cause cramping and contractions. Placental insufficiency is most noticeable because of the lack of activity of the fetus or slowing down of vital signs.

Effects of Placental Complications

Placental complications can be very dangerous for both the mother and child. The bleeding that accompanies most placental complications can put the mother’s life at risk. The infant may be at risk for being delivered too early, before organs and lungs are developed enough.

Placental complications can also put infants at risk for:

  • Breathing conditions
  • Brain damage
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Low blood count
  • Low blood pressure
  • Stillbirth
  • Developmental impairments
  • Jaundice

Diagnosing Placental Complications

Routine physical examinations and ultrasounds may be helpful in spotting signs of placental complications. Once placental complications are suspected, physicians may use blood tests, vaginal ultrasounds, and pelvic exams to confirm the diagnosis. Fetal monitoring may be used to watch the fetus’s vital signs, for both diagnosis and treatment.

Placental Birth Injury Treatment

The treatment for placental complications may vary according to the details of the condition. If placental abruption is diagnosed late in the pregnancy, physicians will often opt to induce labor quickly. This can reduce the amount of time that the baby goes without oxygen and nutrients from the placenta. Delivering the baby quickly can also reduce the mother’s blood loss, which may be a serious consideration if bleeding is severe in cases of placental abruption or placental previa.

Placental Previa Treatment

Placental previa treatment may include blood transfusions, vitamin K injections, and steroid injections to strengthen the infant’s lungs. If labor is eminent, the baby will often be delivered by cesarean section surgery as quickly as possible. If it is too soon for delivery, the mother may be given medications to help stop labor.

Placental Insufficiency Treatment

After placental insufficiency has been diagnosed, mothers are usually coached to get plenty of rest. Physicians may help mothers gain control over high blood pressure and other conditions that are at the root of the issue. Mothers may also be given low dose aspirin and told to forego anesthesia and narcotics during delivery.


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“Placental Abruption.” PregMed. PregMed, 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 3 Feb. 2015. <http://www.pregmed.org/placental-abruption.htm>

“Placental Abruption.” Pregnancy.org. Pregnancy.org, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Feb. 2015. <http://www.pregnancy.org/article/placental-abruption>

“Placenta Previa.” Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 3 Feb. 2015. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000900.htm>