Placenta previa is when the placenta, the organ that holds your baby during pregnancy, completely or partially covers the opening of your uterus, the cervix.
Placenta previa affects about 1 in every 200 births, and although it’s serious if it isn’t diagnosed, there is help available if it is.
And luckily, it’s often picked up quite easily.
Placenta previa is usually diagnosed early in pregnancy through an ultrasound.
Let’s tackle them one at a time.
In this article: 📝
- What is placenta previa?
- What is the main cause of placenta previa?
- What are placenta previa symptoms?
- Is placenta previa harmful to the baby?
- How long can you carry a baby with placenta previa?
- What are some placenta previa treatment measures?
- Placenta previa dos and don’ts
- Placenta previa: the bottom line
What is placenta previa?
The placenta is the miracle organ that carries oxygen and nutrients to your baby and removes waste.
When it forms, it usually attaches to the top or the side of your uterus.
If it attaches to the top, it’s called a fundal placenta.
And if it attaches to the side, it’s in a lateral position.
If it forms at the bottom of your uterus, it’s called a low-lying placenta.
As your uterus expands during pregnancy, the area where the placenta is attached usually stretches upwards away from your cervix. In fact, for nine in every ten women, the placenta migrates into the upper part of the womb by 32 weeks.
However, if the placenta remains low within your womb, it can partially or fully cover your cervix.
This is known as placenta previa and may block the baby’s exit route, which is why a cesarean section is often recommended.
What is the main cause of placenta previa?
No one really knows what causes placenta previa, but there are a few conditions that can make it more likely.
You might be at higher risk if you:
- Have had a baby in the past
- Have had a C-section in the past
- Have had placenta previa previously
- Are pregnant with more than one fetus
- Have scars on your uterus from a previous operation
- Have used IVF for infertility
- Are over the age of 35
- Use cocaine
If you’ve had placenta previa previously, your chances of having it again are small at only 2 to 3%.
What are placenta previa symptoms?
Sometimes placenta previa has no symptoms at all and is simply picked up in a routine ultrasound.
But in many cases, those with placenta previa experience pain-free vaginal bleeding.
This typically happens after the 20-week mark, often during sex or a medical exam.
Together with the bleeding, you might also experience pre-labor contractions.
Why might you bleed?
As your baby grows, the bottom part of your uterus thins.
And if your placenta is in this area, it will also start to thin and bleed.
These symptoms can be alarming — we hear you.
Try not to panic, and call your doctor as soon as you can.
And if your bleeding is severe, don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room.
Is placenta previa harmful to the baby?
Placenta previa is risky for you and your baby, and your doctor will keep an eye on you if you’re diagnosed with it.
Placenta previa can cause severe bleeding during your pregnancy, during labor, or in the first few hours after you’ve given birth.
In serious cases, this bleeding can mean that your baby has to be delivered via C-section before they’re at full term.
And it can be so severe as to be life-threatening.
But if you’re closely monitored and given the right treatment, you and your baby should be absolutely fine.
Your doctor will likely deliver your baby via C-section when they think the time is right.
How long can you carry a baby with placenta previa?
The most important thing in any pregnancy is to keep you and your little one healthy.
If your doctor feels that you or your baby is at risk, they might recommend an immediate C-section between 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.
Ideally, they’ll want to wait until your baby’s lungs are fully developed.
What are some placenta previa treatment measures?
How your doctor chooses to treat you will depend on various factors.
These include the extent of your placenta previa (whether it’s partial or complete), where it’s located, where you’re at in your pregnancy, how much you’re bleeding, and the health of you and your baby.
Based on these factors, here are some of the treatment options they might recommend.
Regular follow-up ultrasounds and rest
If you’re early in your pregnancy and not experiencing any bleeding, they might simply suggest regular follow-up ultrasounds just to keep tabs on you.
You might be prescribed bed rest.
If you are bleeding, they’ll likely want to monitor you in a hospital and give you treatment to keep you and your baby healthy.
The doctors and nursing staff will probably use a fetal monitor to check on your baby and regularly check your vital signs, such as your blood pressure.
If you’re bleeding severely, you might need blood transfusions.
If the bleeding becomes very serious, an emergency C-section might be necessary.
Placenta previa delivery
For those mamas with placenta previa after 32 weeks, your healthcare provider will more than likely schedule a planned C-section sometime between 36 and 37 weeks.
Placenta previa dos and don’ts
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind as you deal with placenta previa.
- Follow the advice given to you by your medical team.
- Go for an ultrasound to see where your placenta is.
- See your doctor if you experience any vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy.
- Have any vaginal penetration, including for medical exams
- Do any moderate or strenuous exercise
- Lift something that weighs more than 20 pounds
- Stand for more than four hours
- Smoke or take cocaine (This is not a good idea when you’re pregnant, even if you don’t have placenta previa. If you need help with substance use, head here. And chat with others in the Peanut community. You’re not alone.)
- Orgasm after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although there’s no published studies supporting this advice, clinicians often recommend abstaining from an orgasm until after birth to prevent urine contractions. (We know—this is a nasty one, especially with all those pregnancy hormones doing their thing!).
Placenta previa: the bottom line
A placenta previa diagnosis can be scary, but it’s important to remember that it can go away on its own.
If it does, you can have a vaginal delivery.
If it doesn’t, your doctor will monitor you closely and likely deliver your little one via C-section to keep you both safe.
And remember, we’re here to help.
Reach out for support, share your journey if you’re up for it, and ask other mamas about theirs.
You’re not alone. ❤️