Updated October 2013
Problems with the placenta and premature birth
If your placenta fails to function properly, there may be risks for you and your baby.
How the placenta works
This vital organ provides nourishment and processes your baby's nutrients, waste and oxygen. It is attached to the wall of the womb, where it sits alongside your baby.
The placenta is linked to the baby by the umbilical cord, which is attached to his tummy. Placental abruption and Placenta praevia (low lying placenta) are two common conditions linked to the placenta that can cause premature birth.
In this condition, some or all of the placenta separates from the wall of the womb before the baby is delivered. This can be caused by an impact such as a car crash, or may be related to a condition such as pre-eclampsia.
Symptoms of placental abruption
- pain in the back and abdomen
In severe cases placental abruption can be life-threatening to your baby. If this happens, you may need to be induced or have an emergency caesarean. If only a small part of the placenta has broken away from the womb, or your baby is too small to be born yet, you may be admitted to hospital and kept under observation.
Low-lying placenta (placenta praevia)
This occurs when the placenta sits low down in the womb after 20 weeks.
In about 90 percent of women whose placenta is low-lying early in pregnancy the placenta moves up during the pregnancy. In some women, though, the placenta continues to lie low, and may even cover the cervix (known as major placenta praevia). This can cause severe bleeding, and may be a risk to the baby or mother, so you may be told you need a caesarean.
Because of the risk of sudden bleeding, you may need to be admitted to hospital, or may need to ensure that you are always in a situation where you can get to hospital quickly.
Both placental abruption and low-lying placenta can cause antepartum haemorrhage (bleeding from the vagina) another cause of premature delivery.
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In this section
The causes and problems of premature birth:
Your premature baby:
You can also read about
Willacy H (2011) Placenta and Placental Problems, EMIS PatientPlus Article
RCOG (2011) A low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) after 20 weeks, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists