Placenta previa sounds like a curious concept, doesn't it? Well, it is yet another condition that can appear during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is such a fascinating process, full of unpredictable and dynamic elements such as the placenta previa. This is a condition that fits into this category, since it's not easy to determine how and if it's going to affect your last days as an expectant mother.
Are you intrigued? If so, don't miss the following lines, where you'll find all the information about placenta previa.
Not the best location!
Let's start from the beginning. As you know, the placenta is the organ that hosts, nourishes and protects the foetus as it develops in the womb. In general, the placenta embeds in the side or the top of your uterus, but there are other times in which it attaches to the low part of the womb, covering or grazing the cervix. This is what the concept placenta previa refers to, and you have to know that it can be dangerous. Why? Well, basically because when this happens, your placenta implants in the wrong location and it may block the opening of your vagina, through which your baby needs to make his way out and into the world.
Types of placenta previa
There are three different types of placenta previa, depending on where the organ is placed:
- Complete previa: as its name implies, the concept is used to describe when the placenta covers the entire cervical opening.
- Partial previa: only a part of the cervix is blocked by it
- Marginal previa: it is located at the border of the cervix
Will it affect me?
Fortunately, most women aren’t afflicted by placenta previa. According to statistics, only one in around 200 pregnant women suffers from this condition, but that needs to be put into context. It's not odd that an expectant mum has some degree of placenta previa in the second trimester of her pregnancy. In fact, about 15% of future mums experience this complication by that stage, but the problem fixes itself 90% of the time as the uterus expands (making the placenta move up and, as a result, uncovering the cervical opening).
Besides bare statistics, there are certain factors that can make you more likely to have placenta previa while carrying a child. These risk conditions include:
- Older mums: being over 35 years old can increase by three times the chance of developing placenta previa.
- Smoking: also bad for other pregnancy complications, smoking can put you at greater risk for this one as well.
- Previous pregnancy: the condition is more likely to occur if you aren't a first-time mother.
- Carrying multiples
- Scarred uterus: abnormalities in the uterus, like scars from having had C-sections or other procedures in the past, are also linked to placenta previa.
- History of placenta previa in previous pregnancies
What are the symptoms of placenta previa?
As explained earlier, most cases of placenta previa are diagnosed in the second trimester, often coinciding with the 20 week scan. However, this condition isn't a big deal unless it remains in the third trimester. By then, placenta previa can strike you with a few symptoms that you should be aware of. The most common ones are:
- Bleeding: vaginal bleeding in the latter part of pregnancy can be a clear sign of placenta previa. The haemorrhage occurs because your placenta, 'sitting' low in the womb, loses some connection with the expanding uterus, which at this point is growing and changing its shape. The bleeding caused by placenta previa is painless.
- Cramps: though they are not as frequent, some women do suffer cramping in the area.
- Breech position: having placenta previa may make your baby come out in a feet-first presentation. Normally, by the third trimester of pregnancy, babies have their heads facing downwards, preparing for birth, but when there's placenta previa, the bottom of the uterus is occupied by the placenta. That pushes the little one's head up, resulting in the breech position.
Risks and complications
When bleeding becomes severe and it persists, it can put both your life and the baby's life at risk. Your doctor could decide to induce labour immediately or proceed with a C-section, but that will also depend on the stage of your pregnancy and how safe it is for your munchkin (generally, it is ok after week 36 of pregnancy). If your bleeding is constant too prematurely, you may be given steroid shots to speed your baby's development, so you can have a C-section without any concerns. Blood transfusions may be required if you have very heavy bleeding, but that situation hardly ever happens.
In case the haemorrhage isn't that bad, doctors will prioritise monitoring your placenta previa rather than putting you through an early procedure.
Preventing and treating placenta previa
It is very hard, if not impossible, to prevent placenta previa. You can be aware of the risk factors, like smoking, and still not be able to tell at all whether you may have such a variable condition. You can only have suspicions if you developed placenta previa in the past, which should make you keep your guard up in the future. Other than that, rely on the doctor and the routine ultrasounds in order to get clear answers.
Once it's diagnosed, the doctor will wait until the third trimester to take some action. Placenta previa treatment consists of:
- Rest: to be more precise, you need to rest your pelvic area. Mainly, avoid having intercourse.
- Monitoring: the doctor will do an exhaustive control over your foetus, to make sure that his heartbeat is normal and that he can move without difficulties in the womb.
- Staying at the hospital: if you get severe bleeding, you may need to be monitored constantly. It's not unusual to have to stay at the hospital, getting necessary medical care and rest.
Regarding placenta previa, it's important to point out that about 75% of pregnant ladies that have this problem in the last trimester, end up needing a C-section for delivery. By doing this, doctors keep you from experiencing severe bleeding that could even be life-threatening. There are exceptions, like having a marginal previa, in which a caesarean isn't a must. However, if you do suffer from this condition, it is important that you start warming up to the idea of having a C-section.
If you happen to be one of these future mothers affected by placenta previa, you need to keep calm and be positive. It's hard to accept that you may not give birth the way you always imagined, but remember that the vital thing here is keeping you and your baby from any risks. Despite not being ideal, a C-section does offer safety guarantees for babies delivered from a placenta previa. And while that happens, follow all the medical advice so that the problem doesn't get worse!