The placenta is an organ that develops in the mother’s uterus during pregnancy. This is a vital structure, which provides oxygen and essential nutrients to the growing baby and also removes waste products from the baby’s blood. The placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus and the baby’s umbilical cord arises from it. In a majority of pregnancies, the placenta attaches at the top or to the side of the uterus.
Since the placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the child during the course of the pregnancy, any abnormality or malfunction of the placenta can cause serious or even life-threatening complications for the baby. It is up to medical professionals to identify placental risks in a timely manner and do what is necessary to alleviate them and make the labor and delivery safer for the mother and child. If your child has suffered a birth injury as a result of placental risks, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent parties.
What Affects the Health of the Placenta?
There are a number of factors that can have an impact on the health of the placenta during the pregnancy including, but not limited to:
- Maternal age: Certain placental problems are more common in older women, particularly after the age of 40.
- Premature membrane rupture: During pregnancy, the baby is surrounded and cushioned by a fluid-filled membrane known as the amniotic sac. This is the membrane that ruptures when the baby is ready to come out. However, if the amniotic sac leaks or breaks before labor begins, the risk of problems with the placenta increases.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure can decrease the flow of nutrients to the baby through the placenta. The baby may have growth problems as a result. High blood pressure may also cause a condition called placental abruption where the placenta can prematurely detach from the wall of the uterus.
- Multiple pregnancies: Women who are pregnant with twins or multiple babies may be at an increased risk for certain placental complications.
- Blood-clotting disorders: Any condition that impairs the blood’s ability to clot or increases its likelihood of clotting would heighten the risk of certain placental problems.
- Prior placental issues: If the mother had placental problems earlier such as during a prior pregnancy, she might be at risk of experiencing it again.
- Previous uterine surgery: If the mother has had prior surgery on the uterus such as a C-section or surgery to remove fibroids, she may be at increased risk of certain placental problems.
- Trauma to the abdomen: Trauma to the mother’s abdomen such as from a fall or other type of blow to the abdomen may also heighten the risk of problems with the placenta.
Common Complications Involving the Placenta
Placental complications tend not to be as common as some other issues that occur doing labor or delivery. However, when they do occur, they can be devastating or even life threatening. Doctors and medical providers who monitor the mother and baby should be vigilant at all times when it comes to checking the baby’s health throughout the pregnancy and be prepared to act immediately if the child is in distress.
Here are some of the most common placental complications that occur during a pregnancy and/or during labor and delivery:
Placental abruption refers to the separation of the placenta from the lining of the uterus. This complication may occur in the third trimester. However, it may happen any time after the 20th week of pregnancy. If detected soon enough, depending on the type of separation that occurs, this is a condition that can be successfully treated. Some of the signs and symptoms of placental abruption include vaginal bleeding, uterine tenderness, rapid contractions, abdominal pain and fetal heart rate abnormalities.
What actually happens when a placental abruption occurs? The placenta is part of the baby’s life support system, sending oxygen and nutrients to the child in the womb. When the placenta separates from the uterine lining prematurely or before labor commences, it may interrupt the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the baby.
There are several ways to diagnose placental abruption during pregnancy to ensure that the proper treatment is administered. Your doctor may be able to detect placental abruption through an ultrasound, blood tests, fetal monitoring and through an evaluation of your symptoms such as pain or bleeding.
The treatment for placental abruption depends on the severity of the separation, the location of the separation and the duration of the pregnancy. The separation may be partial or complete. There may also be different degrees of complexity in each of these conditions. In the case of partial separation, your doctor may recommend bed rest and close monitoring.
In some cases, transfusions or other emergency treatment may become necessary. In the course of a complete separation, vaginal delivery may be an option. However, if the fetus is in distress or if the mother is experiencing severe bleeding, a C-section would be necessary. Unfortunately, there is no treatment to stop the placenta from separating and there is no way to reattach it.
Placental abruption may lead to premature birth and low birth weight. In cases where severe or total separation occurs, there is a 15 percent fetal death rate. The risks for placental abruption are higher in women over the age of 35, or women who have preeclampsia (a condition involving high blood pressure and/or fluid retention), women who are pregnant with twins or triplets, or have had a previous placental abruption or who have some type of abnormality in the uterus.
This is when the mother’s placenta is located unusually low in the uterus or is next to the cervix or even covering the cervix. Typically the placenta is located near the top of the uterus where it supplies the baby with nutrients through the umbilical cord. If you are diagnosed with placenta previa early on in your pregnancy, it is usually not considered to be a major issue. However, if your placenta is close to the cervix later in the pregnancy, it may cause bleeding, which may lead to other complications. If you have placenta previa closer to the time of delivery, a C-section may become necessary.
When the placenta completely covers the cervix, it is known as a “complete” or “total” previa. If it is on the border of the cervix, it’s called a marginal previa or partial previa. If the edge of the placenta is within two centimeters of the cervix but not bordering it, it’s called a low-lying placenta. Your obstetrician will likely check your placenta mid-pregnancy with an ultrasound exam. This is typically done between weeks 16 and 20 and later again if necessary.
If you have placenta previa, the steps that need to be taken will depend on how far along you are in the pregnancy. If it is discovered during the mid-pregnancy ultrasound, it may not be a problem because as your pregnancy progresses, the placenta is likely to move farther away from the cervix. However, if placenta previa persists, you may be put on pelvic rest, which means you will stay away from intercourse or vaginal exams for the remainder of your pregnancy. Mothers with placenta previa may also be advised to avoid vigorous activities that can provoke vaginal bleeding.
If it persists during the time of your delivery, you will need a C-section. This is because the placenta is blocking the baby’s way out of the birth canal. The placenta may also bleed profusely as the cervix dilates in preparation for the birth. Placenta previa can lead to other complications such as heavy bleeding.
If you are forced to deliver before term, your child may be at risk for complications from premature birth such as breathing issues and a low birth weight. You may be at risk for placenta previa if you had the condition in a prior pregnancy, or if you’ve had C-sections or other uterine surgery before, or if you are pregnant with twins or multiple babies.
This occurs when the placenta attaches too deep in the uterine wall, but doesn’t penetrate the uterine muscle. Placenta Accreta is one of the most common types of placental complications. Placenta Increta occurs when the placenta attaches even deeper into the uterine wall and does not penetrate into the uterine muscle. Placenta Percreta occurs when the placenta penetrates through the entire uterine wall and attaches to another organ such as the bladder.
Premature delivery and subsequent complications are the primary concerns for the baby. Bleeding during the third trimester may be a symptom that this condition exists. Bed rest might be prescribed for mothers experiencing placenta accreta. This condition may pose a health risk for mothers as well. Severe hemorrhaging in such cases can be life threatening to the mother. Other concerns involve damage to the uterus or other organs during removal of the placenta.
There is nothing that women can do to prevent placenta accreta and there is little in terms of treatment even if it is diagnosed. The most important step is for your doctor to monitor your pregnancy.
A retained placenta is when some of the placental tissue is left inside the mother’s uterus after the birth. This can happen in the case of placenta accreta or in a normal birth if the uterus doesn’t contract enough. This tissue can cause extreme bleeding or infection. If it doesn’t come out soon, the mother’s life may be in danger. In such cases, the doctor might manually remove or use medications or surgery to get it out.
There are also cases where the placenta may not have developed properly. It may be too thick, thin or be malformed in some other way. A malformed placenta is often associated with decreased blood flow to the baby. Medical providers must carefully monitor for any such placental problems during pregnancy and treat any symptoms to ensure that the mother and baby are healthy.
If Your Child Has Been Injured
If you or your child has been injured as the result of placental complications during pregnancy or during labor and delivery due to lack of proper monitoring or because a C-section was not done in time, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your significant losses.
It’s a misconception that placental risks or complications cannot be diagnosed in a timely manner. A simple ultrasound test can pick up most placental problems. They may be diagnosed as early as eight weeks into the pregnancy through abdominal scans. A majority of placental issues tend to develop in the third trimester. So, medical providers often have enough time and evidence to take steps and ensure that mother and baby are safe. Effective medical monitoring can save lives. But at the same time, negligence or carelessness during such a crucial time can also turn a placental complication into a birth injury, or worse.
The amount of compensation you may receive in your birth injury case often depends on the nature and severity of the injury and the extent of negligence or the degree of liability on the part of the medical staff or hospital. You may be able to seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, lost income and wages, loss of future income, permanent injury, disability, past and future pain and suffering, etc.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If your child has suffered a birth injury as the result of placental complications and medical negligence, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
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1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES 1
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