What It Means to Have an Anterior Placenta

How It Affects Pregnancy, Labor, and Delivery

The placenta is vital to a healthy pregnancy. The organ supplies nutrients, hormones, immunity, and oxygen to the fetus. However, many people who are expecting don't know much about it. If you find out you have an anterior placenta, you will probably wonder what that means.

Don't worry, having an anterior placenta does not negatively impact the health of your baby. Here’s what you need to know about having an anterior placenta, including how it will affect your pregnancy and delivery. 

Anterior placenta pregnancy
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon 

Overview

The placenta is an organ that begins developing when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall. It's unique in that it's only present during pregnancy. Though the placenta is fully formed and functioning by 12 weeks, it continues to grow throughout pregnancy.

The placenta produces hormones to maintain your pregnancy, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), progesterone, and estrogen. 

The placenta also connects you and your baby through the umbilical cord. Together, the placenta and umbilical cord bring oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and immune protection from your body to your baby's. These same structures also take waste away from your baby.

It is important to remember that medications, viruses, and other substances you take into your body can pass to your baby through the placental.

After your baby is born, the placenta separates from the uterine wall and exits your body as the afterbirth. If you have a c-section, your doctor removes the placenta surgically after the baby is delivered.  

Placental Location

An anterior placement of the placenta is relatively common and not a cause for concern. Most often, the placenta develops wherever the fertilized egg implants, and it can grow anywhere in the uterus. These are the technical names of the various general locations where placentas are found:  

  • Anterior: The front of the uterus toward the front of your body and your stomach
  • Fundal: The top of the uterus 
  • Lateral: The right or left side of the uterus
  • Low-lying: At the bottom of the uterus, sometimes covering the cervix
  • Posterior: The back of the uterus toward the back of your body and your spine

The placenta can also develop in between any of these areas such as toward the top and back, the top and side, or the bottom and front, etc.

Common Placement

The most common site of implantation and placenta location is toward the top and back of the uterus. By the end of pregnancy, an anterior placenta is less common, but it may be seen at some point in a quarter to a half of all pregnant women, particularly during early ultrasound scans. 

It is unclear why different placental locations occur but it is speculated that the placenta tends to favor growing toward the top and back of the uterus because it increases access to those blood vessel-rich areas.

Diagnosis

Health care providers can see the position of the placenta during an ultrasound. Your provider will check your placental placement when you have your level two mid-pregnancy ultrasound or anatomy scan at around 20 weeks.

If you have an ultrasound earlier in your pregnancy, you may find out about an anterior placenta sooner. However, having an anterior (or even a low-lying) placenta on an early ultrasound doesn’t mean that is where the placenta will stay.

It is very common for the position of the placenta to change as the uterus stretches and grows. An anterior placenta can migrate toward the top, sides, or back of the uterus as the weeks go on.

How an Anterior Placenta Is Different

Having an anterior placenta doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, your pregnancy, or your baby. Still, there are a few things that make having an anterior placenta a little different from other locations. 

When the placenta is in front of the baby, it may: 

  • Make certain prenatal tests, such as an amniocentesis, slightly more complex (but does not increase the risk of miscarriage in amniocentesis)
  • Take a little longer to feel the baby kick
  • Take your provider a little more time to find the heartbeat or the baby during prenatal visits

Fetal Movement

People who are expecting can begin to feel their baby kick as early as 18 weeks and as late as 24 weeks. This may happen sooner for people who have had a baby because they are familiar with what the flutters feel like and they already have a stretched out abdomen. For first-time parents and those with an anterior placenta, it often takes longer to recognize these movements.  

An anterior placenta is like an extra layer between your baby and the outer wall of your belly. This cushioning may make it more difficult to feel your baby kicking until the third trimester when your baby is big enough to make more noticeable movements. 

Monitoring Your Baby's Movement

Feeling your baby move is not only exciting, but it's also reassuring. It lets you and your health care provider know that your baby is doing well. However, excessive worry about tracking your baby's movements can become an unnecessary source of stress.

By the start of the third trimester, the baby usually has a more predictable activity pattern, so you can start to keep track of the movements you feel. Some providers might also have you do daily kick counts at home. 

Performing Kick Counts

When you do a kick count, you check for kicks but also rolls, bumps, and other activities. You typically monitor this movement by timing how long it takes to feel 10 actions. In most cases, there should be at least 10 movements in two hours. If you don't feel any kicks or flutters, it could be that your baby is sleeping.

You're also less likely to feel movements while you are active, which is distracting to you and may lull your baby to sleep. To help you feel your baby's movements better, try: 

  • Concentrating on feeling movements on the sides of your belly and down low in your pelvis
  • Eating a snack or having some juice (This boost of energy can help make your baby more active.)
  • Learning your baby's typical pattern of sleep, wake, and active times 
  • Lying down or sit comfortably

When to Call Your Provider

With an anterior placenta, you may have to pay more attention to your baby's movement to feel them, but you should still be able to feel your baby squirming around. You should contact your provider if:

Prenatal Exams and Tests

Depending on the exact location of your placenta, your doctor may find some prenatal tests more challenging. Don't be alarmed if these procedures take extra time or effort at your prenatal appointments.

Finding the Heartbeat

During routine prenatal exams, doctors find and listen to the baby’s heart with a fetal doppler. It can be a little more difficult to hear the heartbeat when it’s behind the placenta, so expect it to take your doctor or midwife a bit longer to find it.

Feeling the Baby

Doctors and midwives use their hands to feel the baby’s position and size through your abdomen. An anterior placenta acts like a barrier that can make determining the size and position of the baby a bit tougher. However, while it might take a little extra effort, your health care providers can still feel the baby beneath an anterior placenta.

Having an Amniocentesis

An amniocentesis is a prenatal test that examines the amniotic fluid. To get a sample, the doctor places a needle through the abdomen. If the placenta is along the front wall of the belly, it can be in the way. This poses an inconvenience but your medical professional will have strategies for working around your anterior placenta. 

Low-Lying Placenta and Placenta Previa

If an anterior placenta is growing low in the uterus, it could partially or fully cover the cervix. If it remains low, it can lead to a complication called placenta previa. With placenta previa, the placenta attaches low within the uterus, covering all or part of the cervix.

Placenta previa is a relatively rare pregnancy complication (it affects about 1 in 200 pregnancies). However, in nearly 90% of pregnancies with identified low-lying placentas, the placentas migrate up and away from the cervix before childbirth.

In cases where the placenta remains in front of the cervix, the placenta is blocking the baby's way out of the uterus. This can cause bleeding during pregnancy, and it's dangerous during delivery. If the placenta is still low and covering the cervix at the time of delivery, the baby will be delivered by c-section. 

Labor and Anterior Placenta Delivery

Most of the time, having an anterior placenta will not affect your labor and delivery at all. As long as your placenta is not low and you do not have any pregnancy concerns, you can likely have a vaginal birth and follow your birth plan

However, some studies suggest that those with an anterior placenta may be at greater risk of back labor, which is intense back pain during childbirth.

An anterior placenta is also not an issue with c-section deliveries unless the placenta is low. A low-lying anterior placenta could be in the area where a typical c-section incision is made. In that case, the doctor will do an ultrasound to find the safest place to make the incision and deliver the baby. 

Staying Healthy 

If you have an anterior placenta, you don’t have to do anything differently to stay healthy during your pregnancy. With any placental position you should:

  • Always wear your seatbelt in the car.
  • Avoid injury to your belly from high-risk physical activity.
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
  • Manage any health conditions that could lead to pregnancy and placenta complications, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
  • See your doctor for your regularly scheduled prenatal appointments and testing.

Complications

In general, having an anterior placenta does not put you at a greater risk of having pregnancy or delivery complications than any other placental position. 

The below complications can happen in any pregnancy, but some studies suggest that those with an anterior placenta might be at a slightly higher chance of some complications. You might be more likely to experience these conditions if you have an anterior placenta: 

When to See a Doctor

An anterior placenta is unlikely to cause any specific problems for you or your baby during your pregnancy. However, as is the case in all pregnancies, you should call the doctor if:

A Word From Verywell

The placenta can do its job supporting your growing baby whether it’s on the top, side, front, or back of the uterus. You may have to wait a little longer to feel your baby’s first kicks, and they may not feel as strong as if you had a posterior placenta, but overall, you're still likely to have a routine, healthy pregnancy with an anterior placenta.

Complications are rare, but to be sure everything is going smoothly with your pregnancy, see your provider or regular prenatal care. Your provider can also answer any other questions or concerns you may have.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Benirschke K, Burton GJ, Baergen RN. Pathology of the Human Placenta. Springer; 2012.

  • Bienstock JL, Fox HE, Wallach EE, Johnson CT, Hallock JL. Johns Hopkins Manual of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

  • Guttmacher AE, Maddox YT, Spong CY. The Human Placenta Project: Placental structure, development, and function in real time. Placenta. 2014;35(5):303-4. doi:10.1016/j.placenta.2014.02.012

  • Kay H, Nelson DM, Wang Y. The Placenta, From Development to Disease. Wiley-Blackwell; 2011.

  • Zia S. Placental location and pregnancy outcome. Journal of the Turkish German Gynecological Association. 2013;14(4):190-3. doi:10.5152/jtgga.2013.92609