Newswise — The placenta is a structure that develops inside your uterus during pregnancy, providing oxygen and nutrition to your baby and eliminates waste. The placenta connects to your baby through the umbilical cord.

“Normally, the placenta attaches at the top or side of the uterus,” says Scott Shainker, DO, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at BIDMC. “In some cases, the placenta implants in the wrong location or attaches itself too deeply into the uterine wall. This can result in a variety of placenta disorders.”

Symptoms of a placenta disorder can include vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, headaches, and preterm labor with back pain or uterine contractions. Most patients, however, do not experience any symptoms outside of normal pregnancy symptoms. Placenta disorders are typically diagnosed by prenatal ultrasound.

“There are different levels of severity in placenta disorders,” explains Shainker. “They range from not being too disruptive to a pregnancy, to other serious complications, including the need for early delivery and a hysterectomy.”

Factors that can increase the risk of a placenta disorder include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking or using drugs during pregnancy
  • Maternal age (more common in women over the age of 40)
  • A fall or another type of trauma to the abdomen
  • Maternal blood-clotting disorders
  • Previous placental problems
  • Previous uterine surgery
  • Twins or multiple pregnancy

“While most placenta problems can’t be directly prevented, there are steps you can take to promote a healthy pregnancy,” Shainker says.

Reduce the risk of placental disorders by:

  • Working with your doctor to manage any health conditions, such as high blood pressure
  • Not smoking or using drugs
  • Visiting your healthcare provider regularly throughout the pregnancy

Placental disorders are rare, but require treatment from experienced providers and the coordination of many subspecialists.

“We know that being diagnosed with a placental disorder can be stressful,” Shainker says. “But if a concern for a placental problem arises, you can rest assured that our expert team of specialists is highly-skilled in caring for all types of placenta disorders. We will put together a plan to provide the best possible care for you and your baby.”

The New England Center for Placental Disorders at BIDMC is a multidisciplinary program that treats patients from all over the world. In addition to providing leading-edge treatment and compassionate care, our physicians are researchers working to enhance early diagnosis and new innovative approaches to care. Learn more about these pioneering discoveries.