If you’ve been told you have an anterior placenta, you’re probably wondering what it means for you and your baby.
As you might already know, the placenta is an organ that grows in the womb; it’s unique to each pregnancy and baby you have.
This organ is vital for the health of your baby. It supports and nourishes your developing baby and gets rid of waste products.
The placenta is the only disposable organ in the body. Once its job is done, it leaves the womb when it’s no longer required.
For more fascinating information, read BellyBelly’s article What is a Placenta?.
#1: What is an anterior placenta?
So what does it mean to have an anterior placenta?
Having an anterior placenta isn’t a bad thing, but there are some things to be aware of.
The placenta develops wherever the fertilized egg implants.
An anterior placenta simply refers to where your placenta attaches in the uterus.
Placentas are defined as being either:
- Anterior – on the front wall, closest to your stomach
- Posterior – on the back wall, closest to your spine
- Fundal – at the top of the uterus (fundus)
- Lateral – on either the left or the right side of the uterus
- Low-lying – in the lower part of the uterus.
The most common location for your placenta is either at the top of the uterus (fundus), where the blood supply is rich, or on either side of the uterine wall.
Regardless of where your placenta is, it will continue to nourish your baby. Your baby doesn’t mind where it is!
#2: How do I know if I have an anterior placenta?
The only definite way of knowing the size of your placenta is by ultrasound scan.
Your doctor will check where your placenta is when you have your routine anatomy scan. This is usually performed between 18 and 20 weeks.
The scan will look at its position as well as for any placental or umbilical cord abnormalities that might affect your pregnancy.
#3: How common is an anterior placenta?
Anterior placentas are common. This is a completely normal place for the placenta to be situated and shouldn’t cause any problems throughout your pregnancy.
#4: What are the risks of an anterior placenta?
An anterior placenta itself doesn’t cause any additional risks. But it can make a few things more difficult.
Here are some you should be aware of:
- It’s harder to feel your baby’s movements: Most women feel their baby’s movements from about 16-24 weeks of pregnancy. An anterior placenta muffles these movements, so you feel your baby move later in pregnancy
- It’s harder to locate your baby’s heart rate: In the earlier part of pregnancy, when your baby is still quite small, it can be difficult for your midwife or doctor to listen to your baby’s heart sounds with a fetoscope or a handheld doppler. This is because the placenta is sandwiched between the listening device and the baby
- Amniocentesis is trickier: This is a procedure where amniotic fluid is drawn from the uterus, using a hollow needle, and sampled to screen for various abnormalities. Should you require amniocentesis in pregnancy, an anterior placenta can make it more difficult for your doctor to perform the procedure.
- It’s harder to find your baby’s position: Your midwife might find it more difficult to palpate or feel your baby’s position by touch.
#5: What does baby movement feel like with an anterior placenta?
Most women who have an anterior placenta feel their baby move a little later than women who don’t. Because the placenta separates your baby from the front of your tummy, it acts as a bit of a buffer to the baby’s movements.
Your baby will still be moving but while she’s still small it’s harder to feel the more subtle movements from the outside.
An anterior placenta might affect the way you feel your baby move up to 24 weeks, but beyond that point, it shouldn’t make a difference.
Regardless of where your placenta is if you reach 24 weeks and haven’t felt any fetal movements contact your midwife or doctor for advice.
#6: Is normal delivery possible with the anterior placenta?
Normal placement of your placenta, including anterior, will not prevent you from having a normal birth.
The only placental positions where vaginal birth isn’t possible are either low lying or, in the case of placenta previa, where the placenta is very close to, or covering part of, the cervix.
This simply means the edge of the placenta is in close proximity to or covering the cervix. This can lead to many complications in pregnancy, and can also prevent your baby from being born vaginally.
Both conditions can give you a higher chance of significant blood loss during labor and birth, and therefore a c-section birth for placenta previa is recommended to birth your baby safely.
An anterior placenta won’t interfere with your plan to have a normal birth.
#7: What is the best position of the placenta for normal delivery?
An anterior placenta may increase the chance of mothers carrying their baby ‘back to back’ (occiput posterior position) in pregnancy.
This means your baby’s back is towards your spine, rather than at the front of your belly. The biggest part of your baby’s head (the occiput) is the posterior (towards your back).
As an anterior placenta occupies space on the front wall of the uterus, it makes sense your baby will find more room towards the back of the uterus to settle into.
However, most babies move into a more optimal position for birth, with only 5-8% of all babies staying back to back.
#8: Can the anterior placenta cause pain?
A posterior baby is more common for women with an anterior placenta; therefore it’s not uncommon for them to experience some lower back pain.
The baby’s head in this position puts more pressure on the mother’s sacrum which can cause discomfort, especially in labour.
Back-to-back labour is generally known to be longer and more uncomfortable for the birthing mother.
For tips on how to make birth easier be sure to read Optimal Fetal Positioning – How To Make Birth Easier.
#9: Can you have a cesarean with an anterior placenta?
A placenta attached to the front of your womb won’t affect your being able to have a c-section birth, should you need one.
If you have an anterior placenta, it will be clearly documented in your notes, in case of a c-section.
As long as the placenta isn’t low lying in the uterus, it will be well away from the incision site, which sits around your bikini line.
However, if your placenta is known to be close to where the incision might be, your doctor can perform an ultrasound to see its exact location, to ensure the c-section is as safe as possible.
#10: Can an anterior placenta move?
Your placenta can change its position in the uterus during pregnancy.
Although it doesn’t exactly get up and move location, the placenta grows in line with your baby. As the pregnancy progresses, it can be pulled up and stretched as the uterus expands. This is known as placental migration.
An anterior placenta is more often pulled upwards towards the top of the uterus, or fundus, but can also grow downwards towards the lower part of the uterus and the cervix.
If you know to have a low-lying placenta, you’ll be offered additional ultrasound scans throughout the pregnancy, to see whether the placenta has moved out of the way.
#11: Anterior vs posterior placenta
When the placenta attaches to the back of the uterus, it’s known as a posterior. Both anterior and posterior positions are common, but there are some data to suggest that placental location could have an effect on certain adverse pregnancy outcomes.
One study found pregnant women with anterior placentas were at a greater risk of:
- Hypertension (raised blood pressure)
- Gestational diabetes
- Placental abruption.
The same study found posterior placentas had a significant association with preterm labor.
Something known as Ramzi’s theory suggests the placenta’s position can determine the sex of your baby as early as 6 weeks. However, this hasn’t been well studied and shouldn’t be relied on.
This information isn’t widespread and requires further research, but definitely has some interesting topic points.
When to contact your doctor
Placental problems are rare, but it’s always better to be checked over if you have concerns.
You should seek immediate assistance or advice from your maternity care provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Severe back pain
- Very frequent contractions
- Vaginal bleeding
- A change in your baby’s movements (after 24 weeks)
- Injury to the abdomen.