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Placental abruption

The placenta is your baby’s support system in the womb. It processes your baby’s nutrients, waste and oxygen. It sits inside the womb alongside your baby, and is attached to the wall of the womb. It is linked to the baby by umbilical cord, which is attached to the baby’s stomach. If your placenta doesn’t work properly, your baby is at risk of health problems.

Placental abruption and low-lying placenta are conditions linked to the placenta that can cause premature birth.

In placental abruption, 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.

Studies show that placental abruption affects up to one in every 100 pregnancies (though it is suspected that the actual figure may be higher as it may not always be diagnosed).

Placental abruption can be caused by an impact such as a car crash. It has been linked to conditions such as pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction.

When placenta abruption happens the placenta is damaged and the baby may not get the nutrition and oxygen they need to develop properly.Placental abruption illustration

Symptoms of placental abruption

  • pain in the back and abdomen
  • contractions
  • tender womb
  • vaginal bleeding.

If you are suffering from the symptoms above seek medical help immediately.

What does placental abruption mean for me and my baby?

The effects of placental abruption depend on how severe it is. If you are under 34 weeks and only a small part of the placenta has broken away from the womb you will be monitored closely to make sure the baby is growing properly and to watch for signs of labour starting.

If the abruption is more severe, you are losing lots of blood and the baby is in distress or at risk of not growing properly you may need to have your labour induced or have an emergency caesarean.

In addition to any problems that the baby may have from the placental abruption, there are health risks of being delivered early. These depend on how far into the pregnancy you are.

Read more about the health risks of premature birth according to gestational age

Read about the research that Tommy’s carries out into the placenta

Reviewed March 2015, next review March 2018


BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014)

BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014)

BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014)

J David, Steer P et al (2010) High risk pregnancy, management options, Elsevier Saunders

RCOG (2011) Antepartum Haemorrhage, Green-top guideline 63,  Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014)

BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014)



The causes and problems of premature birth

Your premature baby:

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