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OB Guideline 30: Placental Pathology Evaluation


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OB Guideline 30: Placental Pathology Evaluation

Related to: Clinical Guidelines, Communication, Documentation, Informed Consent, Nursing, Obstetrics, Teamwork Training

The decision to submit the placenta to the hospital’s Department of Pathology for gross and microscopic examination should be based upon a reasonable likelihood that such an examination will:

  • facilitate the diagnosis of maternal-fetal conditions associated with adverse outcomes; and
  • provide information salient to or allow prognosis for future pregnancies and their outcomes.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) offers no formal guidelines recommending placental examination based on specific clinical conditions with the exception of stillbirth1. ACOG regards placental examination as “an essential component” of stillbirth evaluation. Some clinicians have advised that all placentas be submitted to pathology for examination;2,3 however, there is a lack of consensus for routine examination.

Conditions for Placental Examination

Individual judgment is warranted concerning the appropriateness of submitting the placenta, with as much umbilical cord as is feasible, for pathologic evaluation. Consider submitting the tissue if one is in doubt. CRICO supports placental examination under the following maternal or fetal clinical conditions:

  1. Maternal Conditions
    • diabetes
    • hypertension
    • maternal substance abuse
    • prematurity (less than completion of 37th gestational week)
    • post-maturity (greater than the completion of the 42nd gestational week)
  2. Peripartum Conditions
    • temperature greater than 100.4º F (intrapartum)
    • suspected or proven infection
    • bleeding, of magnitude beyond “show” (for example: suspected abruption placenta, placenta previa, vasa previa, etc.) 
    • oligohydramnios or polyhydramnios
  3. Fetal/Neonatal Conditions
    • still birth (antenatal, or intrapartum) or neonatal death in the delivery or operating room
    • multiple births
    • all major or minor congenital anomalies
    • fetal growth restriction
    • hydrops fetalis or an edematous placenta
    • meconium (thin or thick), noted on admission or occurring in labor
  4. Immediate Neonatal Course
    • Apgar scores of 4 or less at 5 minutes
    • suspected neonatal infection
  5. Gross Placental Anomalies

  1. Management of stillbirth. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 102. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol. 2009; 113:748–61.
  2. Salafia CM, Vintzileos AM. Why all placentas should be examined by a pathologist in 1990. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1990;163:1282–93.
  3. Langston C, et al. guideline for examination of the placenta: developed by the Placental Pathology Practice Guideline Development Task Force of the College of American Pathologists. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1997 May;121(5):449–76.


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May 1, 2014
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