Pregnancy represents a magical time in a woman’s life, but not every one goes smoothly. Placental disorders in pregnancy can strike seemingly without warning and endanger the health of a woman and her unborn child.
Women planning on becoming pregnant benefit from a solid heart-to-heart talk with their OB-GYN first. Some placental disorders are easily preventable with lifestyle changes. However, as some pregnancy placental disorders emerge suddenly, all women benefit from knowing what to look for, even if they don’t plan on having a child for several more years.
Common Placental Disorders in Pregnancy
Many women first gain awareness of placental disorders in pregnancy when a friend or family member experiences such an event. However, as even seemingly healthy women with a good genetic background experience placental issues, all women should understand the basics of what may go wrong.
- Placenta previa occurs when the placenta grows partially or fully over the opening of the cervix. The condition poses several problems. As the infant must eventually exit through the cervix, a vaginal birth may create issues. Some women prefer to opt for a cesarean section, while others do go on to give birth vaginally with close medical observation. One major complication of placenta previa includes either the mother, the baby or both bleeding out during delivery, so advance planning with a physician improves survival rate.
- Placenta abruption occurs when the placenta fully or partially detaches from the uterine wall during pregnancy. This condition can lead to stillbirth, as the placenta can no longer deliver the right amount of nutrients for the growing baby, and may potentially cut off the supply of oxygen to the fetus. When placenta abruption occurs, most women experience sharp, intense pain in the abdomen and low back, so anyone experiencing these sudden symptoms should seek immediate medical care.
- Like placenta abruption, placental insufficiency also may deprive the growing baby of oxygen and nutrients. Unlike a complete abruption, placental insufficiency allows the baby to get some oxygen and nutrients, but nowhere near enough of either. This can lead to low birth weight and learning disabilities, as well as the development of diseases such as cerebral palsy in the infant. Sometimes, but not always, the woman goes on to develop pre-eclampsia, especially if the mother suffers from high blood pressure or smokes during pregnancy.
- Other placental complications during pregnancy, such as anterior placenta, don’t always add to developmental risks, but may make it more difficult to perform an ultrasound or for the mother to feel the baby kicking. Fortunately, this condition sometimes leads to happy outcomes when a woman first finds out she’s to have not one, but two, little bundles of joy due to a twin hidden from the ultrasound by the covering placenta.
Risk Factors to Evaluate and Avoid
Fortunately, women have the power to minimize their risks of placental disorders in pregnancy by making positive lifestyle changes in the months before trying to conceive, as well as throughout all three trimesters.
As smoking cigarettes and carrying too much body weight both increase the changes of placental woes during pregnancy, women planning to conceive can reduce their risk simply by kicking the butts and selecting healthier foods. Fortunately, a plethora of free resources exist to aid in smoking cessation. While many doctors advise against beginning new exercise programs during pregnancy, women hoping to conceive benefit from walking or other gentle low-impact workouts they can continue once the baby comes along.
High blood pressure, likewise, can increase the risk of placental problems during pregnancy. Women trying to conceive may wish to speak with their doctor on how to lower their numbers. Mild hypertension often responds well to changes in diet and exercise, while more serious cases may require medication.
Women who have undergone previous C-sections do well to initiate a frank, open discussion with their doctor regarding how this may affect future pregnancies. Some women opt to have a C-section with each subsequent pregnancy, while others continue to strive for a vaginal birth if at all possible under careful supervision.
Diagnosing and Managing Placental Abnormalities
Many placental diseases are discovered through routine ultrasounds throughout a woman’s pregnancy. However, physicians can also measure other risk factors and prescribe courses of conduct to prevent infant harm. For example, doctors caring for an expectant mother with a history of hypertension can suggest frequent blood pressure checks to make sure this remains under control throughout her pregnancy.
Blood tests likewise offer insight into placental diseases many women experience. The existence of certain protein levels in a woman’s blood can suggest a propensity for certain disorders, as can measuring the fetus’s respiration rate.
Physicians often prescribe bed rest for moms at risk for or symptomatic of placental disorders. While some women may find this burdensome, most willingly accept the reduction in their activity levels in exchange for protecting the health of their child.
Healthy Baby, Healthy Mom
Fortunately, with early diagnosis and proper care, even women with a family history of placental disorders in pregnancy or those with multiple risk factors can go on to give birth to healthy infants. As long as expectant mothers practice diligence in contacting their OB-GYN at the first sign something may be amiss, their doctor can recommend a treatment regimen for the best possible outcome.