Can A Calcified Placenta Cause Birth Defects?

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When you’re pregnant, you are hyper-concerned about what’s happening in your womb. Hearing the term ‘calcified placenta’ might freak you out. You might be wondering if your baby’s development would be affected by a calcified placenta.  First of all, take a deep breath, mama. Having a calcified placenta does not mean your placenta is not working properly. Here, we will be discussing everything you need to know about placental calcification.


But, before we get started, let’s understand what a placenta is. 

The placenta only grows during pregnancy and connects your baby to your uterus through the umbilical cord. It helps in providing nutrients, food, and oxygen to the unborn baby.

A calcified placenta occurs when there is a deposition of small, round calcium minerals in placental tissue. This is a natural process and usually occurs in the end weeks of pregnancy. 

To know more, read What Is A Calcified Placenta?

Previously, placental calcification was detected only after the baby was born. When the placenta was physically inspected by the doctor or midwife. Small white calcium deposits, resembling little hard stones, were observed and felt. Back then it was not considered to be a problem. The placenta was considered to be just aging, which is a common occurrence when the baby is due or late. Long fingernails, vernix (white, cheese-like biofilm covering the skin of the baby), and dry skin are other symptoms of an overdue baby.

What Does Aging of the Placenta Mean?

Aging placenta means that the placenta deteriorates and there are various changes that occur in the placenta as pregnancy progresses. Its ability to deliver oxygen and nutrition to the baby reduces by the end of the pregnancy.

Hence it is necessary to deliver the baby by the end of the 42nd week. This is because the placenta becomes extremely calcified. It can make it difficult for the baby to breathe within the mother’s womb or to absorb nutrients from the mother.

What Can Cause an Aging or Calcified Placenta?

As discussed above, most placentas get calcified as you approach full term. But, having an early calcification is not normal. Though early calcification is less prevalent, there are some risk factors that may lead to a calcified placenta. Such as:

  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension 
  • Placental detachment from the uterus
  • Bacterial infection in the placenta 
  • Environmental factors (such as exposure to ultraviolet radiation)
  • Prenatal stress
  • Excessive vitamin supplementation

How to Diagnose Calcified Placenta?

Nowadays, placenta calcification can be identified before birth with advanced 3D ultrasounds.

If the calcification is detected in the end weeks of pregnancy or when the baby is due, there is no problem. But, calcification before the 36th week may indicate that the placenta is aging prematurely, putting the newborn at risk. 

What Happens When the Placenta is Calcified?

When the calcium gets deposited in the placental tissue, it impairs the function of your placenta. The fetus does not get enough nutrients. But you don’t have to go into a full-blown panic mode even if it is determined you have placental calcification.

Most mothers with placental calcification just require close monitoring of their baby’s growth. Medical intervention may be required if the calcification is associated with other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disorders. If significant calcification is diagnosed near your due date, you may need to have a cesarean section. Fortunately, these conditions are rare.

How Does Placental Calcification Affect Your Baby?

It is difficult to predict the impact of a calcified placenta on your baby. Due to a lack of clear information, experts appear to have differing viewpoints on the relevance of a calcified placenta on an unborn baby. However, some studies indicate that if placental calcification occurs before the 32nd week of pregnancy, you may have pregnancy and birth complications, such as:

  • Heavy bleeding after delivery 
  • Placental abruption
  • Premature birth
  • Underweight baby
  • Having a baby with a low Apgar score
  • Stillbirth

The complications occur because of a lack of nutrition or oxygen to the baby due to placental calcification. Thus, the baby is delivered prematurely. A preterm baby may experience all types of risks associated with premature births such as low birth weight and low Apgar score (a quick test done on a baby soon after birth). As a result of the calcification process, some parts of the placenta become dead and don’t function normally. Oxygen deprivation can also affect the baby’s brain and prove to be fatal.

Remember, the earlier the calcification of your placenta begins, the greater the risk to your baby and of preterm birth.

How Does the Calcified Placenta Affect Your delivery?

Certain types of calcification are normal, but there are many different types and they can occur at different layers of the placenta. Some are concerning and are caused by pathological problems, while others may occur naturally. Hence, it is best to consult your gynecologist.

To check for your baby’s health status, your doctor may recommend a non-stress test or NST. NST involves monitoring the pattern of your baby’s heart rate as well as the pattern of your contractions. The pattern of your baby’s heart rate tells about their health and oxygenation status. Certain heart rate patterns indicate a problem with the placenta or the umbilical cord.

Your doctor may do prolonged monitoring if he/she finds any concerns with the test. If the concern is severe, your doctor may recommend a C-section delivery. But, if everything looks normal on your non-stress test then you can stay pregnant for a few more days. You can follow up again for another non-stress test and wait until either your body goes into labor or your doctor recommends delivery.

When you are not on the monitor, the best indication that your baby is doing well inside the uterus is that your baby is moving frequently. So, pay close attention to your baby’s movements inside your womb. If you ever notice a decrease from your norm, avoid all distractions, lie down on your side and count every single movement. When you lie on your side your baby will receive the most blood flow in this position. 

If your baby moves six times per hour, he or she is healthy. However, if you have ten or fewer movements in two hours, you should go to the hospital and have another non-stress test.

How Can You Prevent Placental Calcification? 

 

To prevent calcification of your placenta in early pregnancy, you can follow some simple tips:

  • Forgoing smoking during pregnancy and avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Consuming multivitamins and healthy foods like blueberries, strawberries, or foods that contain antioxidants can help prevent the preterm aging of your placenta.
  • Managing your pre-existing medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or anemia.
  • Follow up with your doctor during pregnancy, this could prevent it or detect the condition by following your doctor’s advice.

Takeaway 

  • Having a calcified placenta when you are close to your delivery date is a normal part of a healthy pregnancy and there is no need to worry.
  • Do not miss any follow-ups and ultrasound scan appointments with your doctor, as this can help in detecting placental calcification.

References

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223957588_The_Role_of_Preterm_Placental_Calcification_in_High-Risk_Pregnancy_as_a_Predictor_of_Poor_Uteroplacental_Blood_Flow_and_Adverse_Pregnancy_Outcome. Published 2022. Accessed May 15, 2022.
  2. Fetal Non-Stress Test (NST). American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/non-stress-test/. Published 2022. Accessed May 15, 2022.

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