Pregnancy is a time when you start to learn all sorts of new things you never knew you needed to know. If you’ve never had a baby before you probably have heard about the placenta, and might know that it nourishes your baby in the womb, but that’s probably about it. Placenta previa is a term you may have also heard thrown around and we’re here to help you understand what it is, and what it means for you and your baby.
What is placenta previa?
From the moment you become pregnant, your very clever body begins to form the organ known as the placenta. By week twelve the placenta is fully formed and begins looking after your baby, providing it with all the nutrients your growing little one needs to thrive. Under normal circumstances, the placenta attaches to the wall of your uterus, and will be referred to as anterior if it is at the front, or posterior if it is at the rear. Over the course of your pregnancy, your placenta will continue to grow and move with your expanding uterus and you will birth it after your baby.
Occasionally your body gets a little bit confused and, rather than being closer to the top of your uterus, the placenta is attached to the lower part. It can cover part or all of your cervix, and this is what’s known as placenta previa, or a low-lying placenta. It’s quite common, with one in every 200 pregnancies affected in Australia each year.
How will I know I have it?
In this wonderful world of modern medicine, we are so closely monitored during pregnancy that placenta previa will usually be picked up in early ultrasound. Some symptoms that may occur however include cramping or pain, and bleeding from your vagina, particularly in the second half of pregnancy.
Is it bad for my baby?
In itself, no, there is nothing wrong with your placenta. It will still work just fine to do all the things it needs to do for your baby.
Having placenta previa does however put you at a high risk of preterm birth and your medical team will monitor you closely throughout your pregnancy. According to Better Health, there is also a chance that, as you get closer to birth and your cervix begins to thin, your placenta could tear or potentially separate from your uterine wall. For this reason, your doctor may recommend bed rest to avoid any potential damage and to try and prevent you from going into labour too early.
Why does it happen?
No one is really sure, but there are thought to be a few risk factors. These range from low implantation of the egg, uterine fibroids, a scarred uterine lining or having multiple births such as twins.
One thing that is clear is that there is nothing you could have done to change this. Don’t feel guilty or like you could have done anything differently. Sometimes our bodies just decide to do things a little bit strangely.
Can it be fixed?
Unfortunately, no, there is no treatment for placenta previa. If you’ve been diagnosed early in your pregnancy, it is important to remember that many women find that their placenta previa may go away as they get closer to term. This is because the growing uterus may eventually move the placenta and increase the distance between it and the cervix. However, if you’re diagnosed with placenta previa later in pregnancy, this is unlikely.
What does it mean for childbirth?
Once placenta previa has been confirmed in your last trimester, it is highly likely that you will need to deliver your baby via caesarian.
If you do go into labour, your placenta may begin to bleed. This can be life-threatening for both you and your baby, so if you notice any bleeding in the last trimester, it is always very important to contact your doctor or midwife straight away.
We’re very lucky to have excellent obstetric care in Australia. If you do find out that you have placenta previa, try not to stress too much. Just follow health advice and know that you’ll be meeting your beautiful new baby very soon!
Read next …
- Why mums are eating their placentas
- The third stage of labour: placenta delivery
- After birth: 10 things to do with a placenta
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