Early in pregnancy, many women have a placenta that is positioned low in the uterus, putting it in very close range with the cervix, sometimes touching or covering it. In most cases, this usually changes as the baby grows, and by the time you’re ready to go into labor, everything has resolved itself. For one in 200 pregnancies, however, the cervix stays in its low position. This condition is known as placenta previa, and while common, it needs to be treated correctly to avoid any possible complications for you and/or your baby.
There are varying degrees of placenta previa, from marginal, which means the placenta is slightly touching the cervix, to partial and complete, in which the cervix is partly covered or completely covered, respectively. Even with less severe cases, the majority of women affected cannot have a vaginal birth. Below we examine the causes, symptoms and treatment.
While placenta previa can affect anyone, many cases are caused by conditions the expectant mom already has, including:
- Low positioning of the fertilized egg
- Abnormalities of the uterine lining, including scarring and/or fibroids
- A pregnancy with multiple babies
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Because the position of the placenta is checked at every doctor’s appointment, women who have placenta previa will usually know about the condition long before the first contraction. While there are no definite symptoms, spontaneous bleeding (even from little actions like coughing or sneezing) can be a red flag that something is wrong, especially towards the end of pregnancy. If your placenta does not move, or you notice bleeding, ask your doctor immediately for an ultrasound, from which placenta previa can be accurately diagnosed.
Once diagnosed, you will be closely monitored at doctor’s appointments until labor. Unfortunately, there is no way to “change” the placenta’s position, so the only way to end the condition is by giving birth. However, depending on the severity of the issue, doctors may recommend that certain steps be taken, including:
- Restricted physical movement, including lifting and sexual intercourse
- A second ultrasound during your third trimester
- Bed rest
- Delivery by C-section
Just like with any pregnancy, there are some risks associated with this condition that you need to be aware of. Complications from placenta previa include:
- Fetal distress due to loss of oxygen
- Blood loss for the baby
- Hysterectomy (if the uterine wall and placenta don’t separate)
- Possible death
If you are diagnosed with placenta previa, it is important not to worry. Doctors are highly trained in dealing with this condition because of its commonness, and complications are usually very rare.