advice

pregnancy problems:
placenta problems

Your placenta is valuable to your baby’s life, it provides oxygen and nutrition, hormones for your baby to grow and passes on antibodies to help protect them once they’re born. As such, it’s important for you to be aware of potential placenta complications that can affect you and your baby.

what is low-lying placenta?

As your little one grows inside your bump, your womb is expanding to keep up. Your placenta is also on the move too, and while it normally expands upwards, away from the cervix, it can also remain much closer to it, in a low position.

This is known as low-lying placenta or placenta praevia, and it affects as few as one in every 200 pregnancies. While it can get in the way of the birth canal, there’s usually little chance of the cervix being completely covered.

how is it detected?

Thankfully, your 18 to 21-week ultrasound scan will be able to detect whether you have a low-lying placenta. If they notice that you are developing placenta praevia, you’ll be offered another scan at around 32 weeks to check in and keep an eye on the situation. In 90% of cases the placenta will, by this point, have moved upwards into a normal position.

If the placenta is still low then you may bleed more than normal during the pregnancy. You will have a team of experts on hand to take care of you, but you may need to stay in the hospital a little longer than usual after the birth for monitoring purposes.

will placenta praevia prevent a natural birth?

If your placenta is covering your cervix, your midwife may recommend having a caesarean section instead to make the birth easier on you and your baby. Before the birth, you'll then be placed in a period of 'pelvic rest', which means you won't receive any more vaginal exams at this point.

placental abruption: what is it?

This is when the placenta becomes detached from the interior of the womb wall. It’s a serious condition that’s accompanied by abdominal pain, regular contractions and vaginal bleeding. It’s also possible to experience back pain and tenderness in the uterus.

Levels of bleeding can vary significantly, so make sure you see a doctor if you are experiencing the other symptoms. It’s not impossible to have a significant placental abruption and experience no bleeding, as the placenta can block the blood from flowing through the uterus.

What causes placental abruption isn’t completely clear, but it's more likely to occur if you have experienced stomach-related injuries, high blood pressure or drug and alcohol use.

can placental abruption affect the baby?

Unfortunately yes, which is why it needs to be caught as soon as possible to protect your little one. The condition can result in growth problems, premature birth and, sadly, stillbirth. If you’re concerned about your placenta for any reason then you should always speak to your midwife or GP.

If placental abruption is discovered towards the end of the pregnancy then your little one will need to be born right away, normally via a caesarean section. If your baby is significantly premature, you will remain in hospital with your baby to be observed and taken care of.

Placental abruptions can develop slowly. If this happens then you may notice light, irregular bleeding. It’s important to speak with your doctor if this starts happening, to prevent any complications and to make sure your baby continues to grow healthily and happily.