Breastfeeding and a Retained Placenta

Woman getting an abdominal ultrasound. Breastfeeding and a Retained Placenta: Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment
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The placenta is a small organ that attaches to the wall of your uterus and develops during your pregnancy. Through the umbilical cord, the placenta connects you and your baby while your child is growing in your womb. After the birth of your baby, the placenta detaches from your uterus and exits your body. But, if the placenta does not completely leave your body and any part of it stays behind still attached to your uterus, it's called a retained placenta. 

Signs and Symptoms

A retained placenta is not a common problem. When it does happen, most cases are noticed right away in the delivery room upon examination of the placenta after it leaves the body. However, if it's not noticeable after childbirth, you may experience:

Effects on Production of Breast Milk

While you're pregnant, the placenta produces the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones prevent your body from making breast milk before you have your baby. During childbirth, you deliver your baby; then, the placenta also leaves your body. Once the placenta is out of your body, the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop. The drop in estrogen and progesterone trigger a rise in the hormone prolactin over the next few days. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for the production of breast milk.

If any part of the placenta remains in your body after the delivery of your baby, your prolactin levels will not rise, and your body will not begin to make breast milk.


Breastfeeding with a retained placenta is difficult. Since you can't make a healthy supply of breast milk while the placenta remains in your body, your baby will be frustrated and show signs of hunger even after you breastfeed her. And, the longer your milk production is delayed, the more dangerous it is for your child. Your baby may begin to lose too much weight, develop jaundice, and become dehydrated.

When to Get Help

If your breasts do not fill up with breast milk by the third or fourth day after your baby is born, notify your doctor immediately for a checkup. You should also bring your baby to see his doctor for an examination. Your baby's health care provider will weigh your baby and talk to you about whether or not your baby is getting enough breast milk. While you're trying to fix this issue, you may have to supplement your baby.


If your doctor suspects that you have a retained placenta, she will probably perform a physical examination, check your blood for levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), and do an ultrasound to look for pieces of the placenta left behind in your uterus.


If, after your doctor examines you and reviews the results of your tests, she determines that you do have a retained placenta, it's necessary to take action. Your doctor will perform a surgery called a dilation and curettage (D & C) to remove any bits of the placenta that are still inside your body. Once you've been treated and the remaining pieces of the retained placenta are removed, full milk production can begin, and you should see an increase in your breast milk supply.

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Article Sources

  1. Zmora I, Bas-lando M, Armon S, et al. Risk factors, early and late postpartum complications of retained placenta: A case control study. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2019;236:160-165. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2019.03.024

  2. Boss M, Gardner H, Hartmann P. Normal Human Lactation: closing the gapF1000Res. 2018;7:F1000 Faculty Rev-801. Published 2018 Jun 20. doi:10.12688/f1000research.14452.1

  3. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009.

Additional Reading

  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby.
  • Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.
  • Riordan, J., Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2010.