When you’re pregnant, you tend to worry about… well, everything. But being an expectant mom means being hyper-concerned about what’s going on in utero. So, when you hear the term “calcified placenta,” you might think, “Wait, what is that? And should I be freaking out about it right now?!” First of all, breathe, Mama. Second, sit tight — we’ll fill you in on everything you should know about placental calcification.
We probably don’t have to tell you that the placenta is kind of a big deal where pregnancy is concerned. According to the Mayo Clinic, the placenta is an organ essential to pregnancy and fetal growth. It provides oxygen and nutrients to your baby, while simultaneously removing waste products from baby’s blood. Various issues can affect placental health (think placental abruption, placenta previa, placenta accreta, etc.). For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on calcification and why it occurs.
What is a calcified placenta?
In a 2018 study published by Frontiers in Physiology, placental calcification is described as “the deposition of calcium-phosphate minerals in placenta tissue.” In other words, small calcium deposits build up on the placenta, which causes your placenta to break down and deteriorate over time. This is especially dangerous during pregnancy.
However, when your placental calcification occurs can make all the difference for your baby. For example, if it happens before your 36th week of pregnancy, this could be bad for you and baby since it can lead to fetal growth restriction and distress. But after your 37th week, you’re pretty much in a safe zone if your placenta calcifies. Your baby should be fully matured at this point and, therefore, less prone to risk.
Is calcification of the placenta normal?
It depends on when it occurs. Historically, the calcified placenta was diagnosed only post-birth when the placenta was observed by the delivering doctor or midwife. It was considered to be a natural and non-threatening phenomenon of carrying a baby full term or later — simply a side effect of the aging placenta.
However, advances in technology now allow for earlier diagnosis. If it is observed before the 36th week of pregnancy, it could be a sign the placenta is failing. It could also cause physiological complications, like fetal growth restriction.
What causes a calcified placenta?
Before you start playing the blame game with yourself, remember that placental calcification is a naturally occurring process toward the end of pregnancy. In fact, more than 50 percent of placentas show calcification to some extent at full term. Preterm calcification is less common, with some studies citing possible causes such as:
- Renal disease
- Placental abruption
- Bacteria in the placenta
- Prenatal stress
- Excessive vitamin supplementation
- Reactions to medications, particularly antacids
- Environmental factors (such as radiation exposure)
Are there any symptoms of placental calcification?
More likely than not, you won’t feel or notice anything if you have a calcified placenta. Some women with this condition report that baby isn’t as active as normal — especially the closer to term they get, and particularly in the morning. And, as you probably know, a noticeable decrease in fetal movement is always something you should bring up to your health care provider ASAP.
Less common but other possible symptoms of a calcified placenta include vaginal bleeding or unexplained pain in the abdomen and/or lower back. Always, always consult your health care provider if you experience any out-of-the-norm issues during pregnancy. In many cases, including placental calcification, early diagnosis is preferable in order to head off bigger problems.
What happens if your placenta is calcified?
Even if it is determined you have placental calcification, you don’t have to go into full-blown panic mode. For most women diagnosed with a calcified placenta in early pregnancy, the course of action is simply careful monitoring of Mama’s health and of baby’s growth. If you have other high-risk conditions, such as preeclampsia, your health care provider may recommend more urgent medical intervention. This could include a c-section if significant calcification is discovered relatively close to your due date.
So, if doctors are worried about the level of calcification on your placenta they may induce labor or perform a cesarean section to avoid the following:
- Preterm birth
- Low birth weight
- Low Apgar score
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Placental abruption
- Fetal distress
But, again, that represents a far rarer outcome than increased monitoring.
How do doctors diagnose calcified placenta?
Prior to birth, a calcified placenta may be diagnosed through pelvic ultrasonography or routine sonography during pregnancy. Once your health care provider notices possible signs of placental calcification, they’ll likely order more scans and possibly other tests to try to determine the severity of the condition and if it has had any adverse effects on the baby.
What happens if your placenta isn’t working properly?
When you’re pregnant, it’s important for you and your baby that everything is in tip-top shape. However, when your placenta isn’t at its best or working at full capacity, it can hurt your baby’s growth. Your placenta is the bridge between you and your little one. So when it’s damaged or compromised in any way, there could be problems with the baby’s development.
Key necessities like oxygen and other nutrients are restricted when your placenta is impaired. It’s called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). When this happens, the risk of complications during your pregnancy and delivery increases. This can result in poor growth for your baby, as well as difficult and complicated labor. Your little one can also exhibit signs of fetal stress, like poor heart function.
Is there anything you can do to prevent placental calcification?
Since smoking is suspected to increase the risk of calcification, it goes without saying you should abstain from doing so during pregnancy. But you should also avoid secondhand smoke.
Otherwise, it can be difficult to know what to avoid since the precise cause of placental calcification isn’t known. A good general rule of thumb is to follow the proper care for any preexisting issues you may have (such as hypertension or anemia), eat a healthy (antioxidant-rich) diet, and bring any concerns to your health care provider.
What are placenta capsules?
If you’re looking up placenta calcification, you are probably interested in placenta capsules as well. A placenta capsule sounds just like its namesake suggests. It is basically a pill made of your placenta. After delivering your placenta (and your baby), instead of getting rid of it, you can keep it and turn it into your very own, homegrown super vitamin. Some women have the stomach to each theirs but if you prefer to pop it in pill form, that option is available. Your placenta is packed with vitamin B6, vitamin B12, estrogen, progesterone, and iron.
However, it’s also important to take into consideration the side effects of consuming your placenta. It can also have bacteria in it, which could make you or your baby sick if you’re breastfeeding.
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