I admit to having a morbid fascination with what people do with their placentas after birth. This is not one of those topics you discuss with mothers-to-be terribly often, but when you do find a way to weave it into conversation, you find some out some very interesting things about the people you think you know so well.

For example, I never would have thought my next-door neighbor to be a particularly Earth-mama type woman. This changed, though, when she informed me she would be bringing her baby’s placenta home and planting it with a tree so it could nourish the roots in honor of her child. The meaning and spirituality of it all was astonishing, and I couldn’t help myself but to ask the next pregnant woman I found—who happened to be my cousin—what she planned to do with her placenta. She told me she would be doing nothing with it because she had placenta previa and would have to have a C-section. Another cousin piped in that she had had placenta accreta, which is why she had not had another child after her first. I knew the placenta was an important aspect of pregnancy, but I was soon to learn it had far deeper implications for pregnancy and delivery than I had suspected.

Though some bleeding in pregnancy is common, excessive bleeding can be quite dangerous. Placenta previa and placenta accreta are two very serious obstetric concerns that can lead to major bleeding during both pregnancy and delivery. Women suffering from either of these conditions will almost certainly require a C-section, and if accreta is detected a hysterectomy may be necessary.

The placenta is a structure of tissue and blood vessels that develops within the uterus during pregnancy. This body protects the growing baby and provides nutrition by means of the umbilical cord. Generally the placenta ends several centimeters away from the opening of the cervix. In the case of placenta previa, however, the placenta grows very close to, or even over, the cervix. The pressure of the growing baby and dilation during labor can lead to severe blood loss, necessitating a planned C-section in a hospital with ample access to donor blood.

Placenta accreta, on the other hand, involves a placenta that does not grow over the cervix, but instead attaches too deeply to the uterine wall. When the tissues and blood vessels of the placenta grow deeply into the uterus it can result in it not separating easily from the uterus after birth. Forceful removal can lead to catastrophic bleeding, while pieces left behind can lead to serious infection. Most women with this condition will have to undergo a C-section followed by a total hysterectomy to prevent her from bleeding to death or contracting a potentially fatal infection.

Source: Oyelese, Yinka. Placenta Previa, Placenta Accreta, and Vasa Previa, Obstetrics and Gynecology, April 2006, Volume 107, Issue 4, pp 927-941.