A practical guide to placental examination for forensic pathologists


The placenta is a complex interface organ that may hold clues to the reasons for fetal, neonatal or maternal demise. For this reason, placental examination should be a mandatory part of all perinatal or maternal autopsies. While published protocols for the examination of the placenta exist, they are often not adopted. The following review provides practical guidelines for placental examination, with discussion of specific medical conditions that can negatively impact upon the fetus, neonate or mother involving placental pathology to cause death. The review aims to discuss concepts, with illustrations, that forensic pathologists may not routinely focus on in death investigations that may either contribute or mask the cause of a fetal or neonatal death, or are associated with a recurrence risk. While it is recognized that many forensic facilities do not have formal guidelines for placental examination, involvement of local perinatal pathology services in cases is one way of obtaining additional specialist expertise.

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Change history

  • 08 January 2020

    The Publisher would like to correct the introduced formatting errors caused by production on figures 16 and 23 of the original article. The errors are purely typesetting mistakes and the corrections made to the figures did not impact upon the veracity and content of the overall text of the article in any way.


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We wish to acknowledge the scientific, medical and mortuary staff of Department of Anatomical Pathology, The Canberra Hospital their support.

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Correspondence to Jane E. Dahlstrom.

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The original version of this article was revised: 1) In Figure 16, panel d was not captured in the final version. 2) In Figure 23, panel c was not captured in the final version.

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Mittal, N., Byard, R.W. & Dahlstrom, J.E. A practical guide to placental examination for forensic pathologists. Forensic Sci Med Pathol (2019).

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  • Placenta
  • Neonate
  • Maternal
  • Fetal
  • Forensic
  • Sudden death
  • Stillbirth