Updated October 2013
Problems with the placenta and premature birth
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 common 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 1% of 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, or may be related to a condition such as pre-eclampsia or fetal growth restriction.
When placenta abruption happens the placenta is damaged and the baby may not develop properly.
Symptoms of placental abruption
- pain in the back and abdomen
- tender womb
- vaginal bleeding.
If you are suffering from the symptoms above seek medical help immediately.
What are the risks of placental abruption?
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
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.
Both placental abruption and low-lying placenta can cause antepartum haemorrhage (bleeding from the vagina) another cause of premature delivery.
Read about the research that Tommy’s carries out into the placenta
BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014) http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/1117/basics/epidemiology.html
BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014) http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/1117/basics/aetiology.html
BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014) http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/1117.html
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) http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/1117/diagnosis/history-and-examination.html
BMJ Best Practice (accessed March 2014) http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/1117/treatment/step-by-step.html
The causes and problems of premature birth
Your premature baby:
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