Complications Rare, but Don’t Skip Your Checkups

During pregnancy, it’s normal to think about your growing baby rather than about problems that could pop up. But you need to know about issues that can happen during the second half of pregnancy. These complications can occur with the placenta. They are placental abruption and placenta previa. 

Placental abruption

Sometimes the placenta breaks away from the uterine wall too early. This is called placental abruption. This detachment may be partial or complete. When this happens, it can lead to bleeding. It can also decrease how much oxygen and nutrients your baby receives. This occurs in about one in every 100 births. It’s more likely to happen in women who have had placental abruption in a past pregnancy.  It’s also more common in women who smoke, have high blood pressure, and are pregnant with more than one baby.

Symptoms may include vaginal bleeding with pain, cramping, and stomach tenderness. Your healthcare provider will do an ultrasound to diagnose this issue. Your treatment depends on the degree of detachment and how far along you are in your pregnancy. If the detachment is mild and you and your baby are doing well, you may just need to be watched closely. This may be done in the hospital. Or, if you’re near term, your healthcare provider may deliver your baby.  If the detachment is moderate to severe, your healthcare provider may deliver your baby even if you’re not close to your due date.  

Placenta previa

Normally, the placenta is in the upper part of your uterus.  With placenta previa, the placenta is attached very low in the uterus. It’s close to or covering the cervix. This is the opening into the vagina.

This happens one in every 200 pregnancies. It occurs more often in women who have scarring of the uterine wall from a C-section. It’s also more likely in women with fibroids or other problems in the uterus. Women who have had uterine surgery also have a higher risk. Smoking cigarettes and using cocaine are also risk factors.

Symptoms may include bright red vaginal bleeding. They can also include stomach tenderness and pain. Your healthcare provider will do an ultrasound to make the diagnosis. Sometimes this problem may be diagnosed during an ultrasound done for other reasons.

Your treatment depends on how severe the condition is and how far along you are in pregnancy. You may need to change your activity level or stay on bed rest. Your baby will likely have to be born by C-section. This can keep the placenta from detaching too early and depriving your baby of oxygen during birth.

It’s important to keep up with your checkups. This can help your healthcare provider spot problems early and treat them right away.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPHFoley, Maryann, RN, BSN

Date Last Reviewed: 4/18/2016

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