Placental insufficiency

Definition

The placenta is the link between you and your baby. When the placenta does not work as well as it should, your baby can get less oxygen and nutrients from you. As a result, your baby may:

Causes

The placenta may not work well, either due to pregnancy problems or social habits. These may include: 

Certain medicines can also increase the risk of placental insufficiency.

In some cases, the placenta:

Symptoms

A woman with placental insufficiency usually does not have any symptoms. However, certain diseases, such as preeclampsia, which can be symptomatic, can cause placental insufficiency.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will measure the size of your growing womb (uterus) at each visit, starting about halfway through your pregnancy.

If your uterus is not growing as expected, a pregnancy ultrasound will be done. This test will measure your baby's size and growth, and assess the size and placement of the placenta.

Other times, problems with the placenta or your baby's growth may be found on a routine ultrasound that is done during your pregnancy.

Either way, your provider will order tests to check how your baby is doing. The tests may show that your baby is active and healthy, and the amount of amniotic fluid is normal. Or, these tests can show that the baby is having problems.

You may be asked to keep a daily record of how often your baby moves or kicks.

Treatment

The next steps your provider will take depend on:

If your pregnancy is less than 37 weeks and the tests show that your baby is not under too much stress, your provider may decide to wait longer. Sometimes you may need to get more rest. You will have tests often to make sure your baby is doing well. Treating high blood pressure or diabetes may also help improve the baby's growth.

If your pregnancy is over 37 weeks or tests show your baby is not doing well, your provider may want to deliver your baby. Labor may be induced (you will be given medicine to make labor start), or you may need a cesarean delivery (C-section).

Outlook (Prognosis)

Problems with the placenta can affect the developing baby's growth. The baby cannot grow and develop normally in the womb if it does not get enough oxygen and nutrients.

When this occurs, it is called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). This increases the chances of complications during pregnancy and delivery.

Prevention

Getting prenatal care early in pregnancy will help make sure that the mother is as healthy as possible during the pregnancy.

Smoking, alcohol, and other recreational drugs can interfere with the baby's growth. Avoiding these substances may help prevent placental insufficiency and other pregnancy complications.


Review Date: 9/25/2018
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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