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.
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. But, again, that represents a far rare 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.
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.