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What is a Circumvallate Placenta?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A circumvallate placenta is a placenta that does not form properly. This abnormality occurs in less than 2% of pregnancies, and it is not the fault of anything the mother does or does not do. It occurs because of variations in placental development that are beyond the control of the body that the fetus is gestating in. When a woman is diagnosed with this problem, it is important for her to receive adequate prenatal care because it increases the risks associated with the pregnancy.

In pregnancies with a circumvallate placenta, the chorionic plate on the fetus' side of the placenta is slightly too small. Over time, a ring of raised tissue develops and the ends of the placenta start to turn inward. This restricts the supply of nutrients to the growing fetus and can also increase the risk of a placental separation. There are some serious risks associated with this complication of pregnancy.

In the worst case scenario, this abnormality can result in pregnancy loss. If the placenta separates and a woman is not given immediate medical treatment, the baby can die. In women who have not received adequate prenatal care where the condition goes undiagnosed, fetal deaths can also be caused by the nutrient restriction associated with this condition. More commonly, women with this condition will need to deliver by cesarean section and their babies may have a low birth weight.

This condition can be diagnosed with a routine prenatal ultrasound. Physical abnormalities can be observed on the ultrasound examination in varying levels of detail, depending on the technology used for the exam. A medical professional may note that the fetus is not growing as quickly as normal and this can also provide clues to the fact that there is an abnormality. For women with this condition, it is important to eat a healthy diet to ensure that as many nutrients as possible reach the baby, and to be alert to spotting, breakthrough bleeding, and uterine pains that might indicate complications with the placenta.

Women can and do deliver healthy babies with a circumvallate placenta. The chances of a healthy birth increase with each week that the woman can successfully carry the pregnancy. An obstetrician may have specific advice for a patient, including bed rest if it becomes necessary to help her carry the pregnancy to term. Women with this placental abnormality should also make sure that they discuss their birth plans carefully with their healthcare provider.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon990332 — On Apr 16, 2015

I was diagnosed with this condition only after childbirth. I started bleeding when I was 15 weeks; the bleeding gradually got worse, every day a bit more than the day before. I was admitted to the hospital when I was 19 weeks. Our baby girl's growth was right on schedule. Even though I was bleeding severely by then (it was as if a tap was running, so much blood) no one could see what caused the bleeding and everything appeared to develop normally. The constant bleeding did cause the membranes to rupture and I ended up giving birth at 20 weeks, 8 days after being admitted to the hospital. Prenatal care is overrated. All the while I was there, there was no treatment, just bed rest and nothing anyone could do but wait and hope for the bleeding to stop.

Apparently, this condition is hard to diagnose, even though all the signals (heavy, constant bleeding in the second trimester) are there. Then again, even if it would have been diagnosed earlier, there is nothing they can do about it in the stage of pregnancy I was in. For anyone worried about this condition; as long as you are not bleeding, things are looking pretty good, I would say. If you are, and you are further along than I was, things will still probably turn out okay. I was at that tiny end of the statistics where everything that can go wrong with this condition, actually did.

By anon302228 — On Nov 08, 2012

I had an undiagnosed circumvallate placenta and our baby died in utero at 37 weeks. There are no guarantees that just because you've gotten that far, you're safe.

I feel that the statement "The chances of a healthy birth increase with each week that the woman can successfully carry the pregnancy" is false hope. Even though I had proper medical care and higher level ultrasounds (one even days before our baby died), there is nothing short of delivery that can ensure your baby will take its first breath, open its eyes and cry. Stillbirth happens a lot more than anyone talks about until you cross over into the baby loss side of parenting.

By anon194687 — On Jul 08, 2011

I am 24 weeks today. I was diagnosed with this at about 19 weeks. I just had an ultrasound two days ago and my baby boy is right on target, no issues so far.

I have been doing my research about this and it is pretty hard to find anything about it. This is my fifth baby and I was already high risk so I will keep my fingers crossed.

By JaneAir — On Jul 06, 2011

@indemnifyme - Placenta problems definitely don't preclude a successful pregnancy. A friend of mine had placenta praevia and she is now the mother of a very healthy two year old!

It was really scary though. My friend started bleeding severely and they ended up delivering her baby early. The baby had to stay in the premie ward for awhile after birth but has had no other health issues since.

By indemnifyme — On Jul 05, 2011

I've never had children but I feel like when I do I'm going to be a basket case. There are so many things that can go wrong during pregnancy through no fault of the mother.

It sounds like there is hope for women with this condition as long as they get good prenatal care though.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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