Placental Insufficiency: What Every Expectant Parent Should Know

Embarking on the journey of pregnancy brings joy and anticipation, but it can also present unexpected challenges. One challenge is placental insufficiency, a condition that might sound intimidating, however is manageable with the proper knowledge and support. Let’s navigate this journey together, ensuring you and your baby’s health and well-being are supported every step of the way.

What Is the Placenta?

The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy. It is the only organ that operates temporarily in the body. Once the pregnancy is complete, the organ is expelled from the body. During pregnancy, the placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus inside the mother. It is also responsible for removing waste products found inside the baby’s blood. The placenta securely attaches to the wall of the uterus inside the mother. The baby’s umbilical cord forms from the placenta to nourish the baby as it grows throughout the pregnancy.

What Is Placental Insufficiency?

Placental insufficiency is a condition that happens when the placental vascular remodeling fails. In simpler terms, placental insufficiency restricts oxygen and nutrients from flowing into the fetus via the placenta. This condition may cause serious pregnancy complications. The most common is intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), which we’ll discuss a bit later.


What Are The Causes of Placental Insufficiency?

The cause of placental insufficiency is caused by the mother’s placenta failing to adequately feed blood into the baby’s body. This prevents the fetus from growing into a healthy baby. Specific issues with how the placenta attaches to the uterine lining can lead to placental insufficiency.

  • The placenta breaking away from the uterine lining
  • Damage to the placenta
  • Irregularly shaped placentas
  • Failure of the placenta to grow to the correct size
Other causes of placental insufficiency include:
  • Diabetes
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Older maternal age (beyond 35)
  • Certain medications
  • Untreated uterine infections
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Blood clotting conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Extending a pregnancy beyond 40 weeks
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drug abuse

What Are Complications from Placental Insufficiency?

Placental insufficiency complications can occur for both the parent and the fetus. However, in general, this condition poses the most significant risk to the fetus. The risks include:
  • Premature birth
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Fetal hypoxia
  • Anemia
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low calcium levels
  • Stillbirth
For mothers, the complications from this condition include:
  • Preterm delivery
  • Preterm labor
  • Placental abruption

What is Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)? 

IUGR causes a failure in the fetus’ ability to grow normally. Typically, babies affected by this condition are not as big as expected for the stage of pregnancy the mother is in or for the baby’s gestational age.
There are two common types of IUGR:
  • Asymmetrical IUGR: the baby’s brain and head are the correct size, but the rest of the body is too small.
  • Symmetrical IUGR: all the baby’s body parts are the same size, which is too small for its age
The causes of IUGR are related to the nutrients a fetus receives. Problems with the placenta and blood flow in the umbilical cord are often the cause of IUGR.

What is Fetal Growth Restriction?

Fetal growth restriction occurs when a baby doesn’t grow to their normal weight during a typical pregnancy. Placenta insufficiency, high blood pressure in the mother, infections, and alcohol abuse can lead to this condition. Additional fetal growth restriction issues are caused when pregnant women:
  • Smoke, drink alcohol, or uses drugs.
  • are exposed to an infection like German measles (rubella), toxoplasmosis, or syphilis
  • Use certain medications like those that prevent seizures.
  • Have certain medical conditions like anemia lupus, or other clotting issues.
  • Are pregnant with multiples.
  • Face genetic disorders or congenital disabilities in fetuses
  • Are subject to high blood pressure
Ultrasounds during pregnancy help monitor a baby’s weight to identify issues in the placenta from an early stage of pregnancy, often resulting in a placental insufficiency diagnosis. Some babies are delivered early based on these findings. 

What Are Signs of Placental Insufficiency?

Unfortunately, there are few, if any, placental insufficiency symptoms in mothers. Typically, the only symptoms are vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy and feeling the fetus move less. Mothers might also notice they aren’t gaining as much weight as they had with previous pregnancies or that they expect to.

How Common is it?

Placental insufficiency can affect up to 15% of pregnancies, and it is the cause of many pregnancy complications like preterm labor, pre-eclampsia, IUGR, and stillbirth.

How Can You Prevent Placental Insufficiency?

Preventing placental insufficiency starts with early pregnancy prenatal care. Keeping the mother as healthy as possible during the pregnancy is a critical component to keep in mind. Avoiding harmful substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, and of course recreational alcohol is essential for this process.

Tips for Improving the Health of Your Placenta

To prevent placental insufficiency and keep the health of your placenta at its peak, there are a few things you can do.
  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including vegetables, fruits, protein, and whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Engage in routine activities and light exercise when your healthcare provider approves.
  • Healthily cope with stress.
  • Take time to rest, nap, and get enough sleep throughout the day.
  • Reduce caffeine intake.
  • Avoid tobacco products and cannabis.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Keep track of the baby’s movements when you enter the third trimester
  • Support and Resources

Is Treatment Available for Placental Insufficiency?

Management of placental insufficiency includes a variety of treatment options for placental insufficiency including:
  • Education on pre-eclampsia—self-monitoring
  • Increased doctor’s visits
  • Bed rest
  • Consultation with a high-risk maternal-fetal specialist
  • Keeping a daily record of the baby’s movements
  • Steroid injections—to strengthen the baby’s lungs
  • Intensive outpatient and inpatient care if the condition worsens

Seeking Help After the Diagnosis

Navigating the journey of placental insufficiency can be challenging and stressful, but you are far from alone. Approximately 10% to 15% of all pregnancies suffer with this diagnosis. Fortunately, there is help. From support groups to a caring healthcare team, you can cope with this diagnosis and enjoy help from a community that cares.
Support Groups
Look for local and online support groups, specifically those focused on placental insufficiency or even high-risk pregnancies. Facebook and meetup apps are beneficial resources. Share your experience, ask questions, and receive emotional support from others in your situation.
Educational Resources
Educating yourself about placental insufficiency is extremely helpful. Knowing what to expect, what risks are involved, and how to care for yourself is crucial during this time. Resources like our blogs and others can reduce your stress and help you better understand what you’re up against. Also, explore websites like the American Pregnancy Association and the March of Dimes for helpful content.
Healthcare Team
Surround yourself with a team of healthcare experts including skilled doctors, nurses, and midwives. Their experience and wealth of knowledge set you up for success and give you the emotional and physical support you need to make it through.

Can A Baby Survive Placental Insufficiency?

The effects of placental insufficiency on the baby include a wide range of potential issues. However, the most common result is an inability for the baby to grow and thrive. The supply of adequate oxygen and nutrients from mother to baby is vital for a fetus to grow. Low birth weight, premature birth, and congenital disabilities are often the result of this condition.
The earlier in the pregnancy placental insufficiency is identified, the more severe the problems are for the baby, including cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, low body temperature, low blood sugar, excess red blood cells, cesarean delivery, stillbirth, and death. Studies indicate that fetal growth restriction, intrauterine growth restriction, and placental insufficiency are all associated with a higher risk for cerebral palsy and autism.

Are there Medical Interventions for the Baby Post Birth? 

Duke University has recently concluded Phase II of the ACCeNT-CP trial, which focuses on cerebral palsy treatment through the infusion of cord blood to address brain damage. According to Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, Director of the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures at Duke University, the results of this phase show a significant improvement in motor function, as evidenced by statistical analysis.
Cryo-Cell is unique among cord blood banks in actively pursuing the development of treatments for conditions that may emerge and be identified during pregnancy. Cryo-Cell International intends to fund Phase III of the ACCeNT-CP study that is expected to be conducted at Duke University, Nationwide Children's Hospital and Nemours Children's Hospital (Delaware).


A diagnosis of placental insufficiency or intrauterine growth restriction can be daunting, but with the right support and resources, you can confront it effectively. The interventions discussed earlier may enhance the likelihood of having a healthy baby despite these challenges.
Given the ongoing clinical trials led by Duke University, it's worth considering banking your newborn's cord blood and cord tissue to safeguard your family's health needs. Take a moment to understand the advantages of banking with Cryo-Cell, and don't hesitate to contact our team if you have any questions.

Are you interested in learning more about cord blood banking? We’d love for you to join us for one of our upcoming virtual seminars.

Register Now.

Last Updated on: 03/08/2024 by Diane Paradise