Woman Discovers Retained Placenta Two Months After Giving Birth—Here's How That Can Happen

This 22-year-old mom shared her experience in a funny yet alarming viral TikTok video.

Twenty-two-year-old Tori McCain didn’t have the most normal birth experience. Everything felt rushed, and just an hour following the arrival of her newborn daughter, she began to lose a lot of blood, blackening out in the process. “I had to ask my husband to take my baby because I was afraid of dropping her,” McCain tells Health.

After having five fist-sized blood clots removed, McCain was sent home—only for the hemorrhaging to begin two months later. After she sought medical help to find out what was going on, it turned out she had a piece of placenta the size of two golf balls left in her uterus.

“[I was] freaking out thinking my insides were falling out, and also thinking I was gonna die,” McCain explained in her viral TikTok about the experience, which has over 500,000 views to date. She subsequently had the remaining placenta removed.

The medical term for what McCain was dealing with is called a "retained placenta." It happens in 1-3% of deliveries and is the second leading cause of significant (sometimes fatal) postpartum bleeding, according to research published in 2019 in the International Journal of Women’s Health. “My doctor was surprised I didn’t get sepsis,” McCain tells Health.

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What is a retained placenta?

Usually the placenta—the organ that forms in the uterus at pregnancy and provides oxygen and nutrients for the developing baby—delivers itself about 30 minutes after the baby is born. Typically the ob-gyn will examine it to make sure the entire placenta is out. But it's not uncommon for some to be missed by the doctor and left behind. “You can very innocently have an uncomplicated delivery and leave behind a piece," Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health, tells Health.

Why does this happen in some deliveries? “The placenta isn't like a round circle or pie that we can see slices out of—it looks like a slab of brisket,” Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale School of Medicine, tells Health. “Unfortunately there's not a discrete piece that you can identify as missing. You can look at it to see if anything is obviously missing, but most of the time it'll look normal even if a chunk has separated from it.”

What are some symptoms of a retained placenta?

According to Dr. Ross and Dr. Minkin, key symptoms of a retained placenta are abnormal bleeding or hemorrhaging (as McCain experienced). Other symptoms include increased pain or cramps postpartum, as well as a foul-smelling discharge and a fever, which could be a sign of infection.

“Bleeding after birth is normal for about two to four weeks because your uterus is shrinking, but you should not be passing tissue,” says Dr. Ross. “If all of a sudden you're passing tissue or clots bigger than an apricot, that's a reason to call your doctor and check in.”

Though she gave birth two years ago, McCain regrets not advocating more for herself when she noticed something felt off about her delivery. “As a new mom, I didn't really speak up for myself—I was too afraid, and I didn't really know much,” says McCain. “But if I could go back and do it again, I would research more, be more informed, and speak up because this is my body.”

“People need to understand that unfortunately it does happen; it doesn't always mean the provider did something wrong,” says Dr. Minkin. “Don't be scared. The important thing is to recognize it and treat it.”

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