At your last prenatal check-up, your doctor or midwife may have discovered you have an anterior placenta. If so, you’re probably wondering what this means. Or: why me? But above all, you’re probably wondering what an anterior placenta means for your birth plan and your baby.

What is an Anterior Placenta?

An anterior placenta is a placenta that has attached to the front of the uterus. It is diagnosed during an ultrasound.

The placenta (the organ that nourishes baby through pregnancy) typically attaches to the uterus in the back (posterior), though it can attach anywhere, including the sides, top, bottom (also known as placenta previa), and the front (anterior).

What Is an Anterior Placenta? Difference between an anterior and posterior placenta

How Common is an Anterior Placenta?

An anterior placenta is relatively common—in fact, research suggests up to 52 percent of women have an anterior placenta. Interestingly, further research shows an anterior placenta appears to be more prevalent in women with O-positive blood; another found that your sleep position during conception may have something to do with it.

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Are There Risks and Complications Associated With an Anterior Placenta?

Though having an anterior placenta isn’t a problem for the most part, there are some things that can be a bit… annoying. An anterior placenta can make those little things that help connect you with your baby in utero harder to uncover. Here are some of the things that can be more difficult with an anterior placenta:

1. Fetal heart rate: It takes longer to hear baby’s heartbeat

If you’re concerned about risks associated with doppler ultrasound (used to find baby’s heartbeat in the second trimester), you may have decided to wait until a fetoscope could be used, around 18-20 weeks. But with an anterior placenta, it may be even longer, because the placenta is between the fetoscope and the baby.

Even with a handheld doppler, it may be difficult to hear baby’s heartbeat in the early part of the second trimester.

2. Fetal movement: It takes longer to feel kicks

In general, women with anterior placentas feel baby kick later than those with posterior placentas. They may even feel more muted movement, though many feel plenty of movement on the sides, top, and on the bladder!

3. Fetal position: It can be harder to determine baby’s fetal position

Many natural mamas find belly mapping to be a useful tool to bond with baby, to be keenly aware of baby’s position, and to be able to take steps to change the baby’s position if needed. With an anterior placenta, it may be difficult to tell where exactly the baby is, because the placenta cushions any movements in the front.

4. Placenta previa

Sometimes anterior placentas may grow down toward the cervix instead of up, potentially causing placenta previa, a common but more serious concern when it comes to labor and delivery.

Will an Anterior Placenta Change During Pregnancy?

Though the placenta does migrate as the uterus grows, it’s not going to move so much that it’s no longer anterior. The migration is more of an upward one, so a placenta that is near the cervix early in the pregnancy is likely to move to a safer place before delivery.

Will an Anterior Placenta Affect My Baby or My Delivery Plan?

For the most part, having an anterior placenta will have no affect on delivery or your natural birth plan. In most cases, baby is born without any problems at all. In, fact many women never even know about, or notice, their anterior placenta, because it never causes any concerns.

Though not necessarily cause for concern, there are a few things to be aware of:

Difficult labor

There does seem to be a correlation between anterior placentas and babies in occipital posterior (OP) positioning, meaning baby’s face is pointed toward mom’s front instead of toward her back, called occipital anterior (OA).

Some midwives believe that babies with an anterior placenta are more comfortable in an OP position and that’s why that correlation exists. In any case, an OP presenting baby is not an emergency, but could cause back labor or a slightly longer, more difficult labor.

Greater risk of c-section

In some cases an OP presentation may require more interventions, like a c-section.

What to Do If You Have an Anterior Placenta

Having an anterior placenta is usually nothing to worry about, but if you’re concerned about some of the possible issues we’ve discussed here, there are some things you can do:

  • Choose a handheld doppler instead of a fetoscope to hear baby’s heartbeat, and remain calm if it takes a while to find it. It may take a few extra weeks to hear the heartbeat.
  • Try belly mapping. It may be more difficult to do, but if you can figure it out, you’ll be happy to see that your baby is indeed in OA position. Even if the baby is facing a different way, you can try some exercises for moving him or her into a better position.
  • Sleep on your back if you’re trying to conceive. One study found that sleeping on your back was the best way to get a posterior placenta.
  • Keep a positive mindset. If there’s ever a time in your life to believe in the power of positive pregnancy affirmations,  it’s during pregnancy and labor! Be prepared, of course, but expect the best, too.

How About You?

Did you have an anterior placenta? Did it affect your birth at all?