The afterbirth or placenta is the organ in the womb through which blood, oxygen and nutrients reach the baby from the mother. When the placenta fails to function properly, the baby is unable to grow optimally and the condition is called placental insufficiency.
Placental insufficiency could arise from maternal diseases - high blood pressure, kidney problems, immunological disorders and other diseases affecting the blood vessels of the afterbirth. The same condition may arise if the afterbirth becomes too 'old' or the pregnancy goes much beyond the expected date of delivery.
Placental insufficiency may be suspected if the water is in the womb around the baby is reduced on examination or if the baby grow sub optimally. A more definite diagnosis is made by ultrasonography (often many) and Doppler studies. In the later, blood vessels of the placenta and baby are examined to detect reduced flow of blood.
Early detection of the condition helps in assessing the time of delivery and minimizing the risks for the baby inside the womb.
Medical treatment of placental insufficiency has never been encouraging. A decision for early delivery, depending on the severity of the condition is usually made. The decision needs to be balanced against the risks of delivering a premature baby. Though normal delivery is not contraindicated, in severe cases of insufficiency cesarean section may be preferred.