Find Out What Placenta Previa Is, How It Is Diagnosed And What It Means For Your Pregnancy

Strong heartbeat? Check. Ten fingers and toes? Check. Placenta embedded high? That last one might sound unusual, but it is important to baby's and mom's health too. If you have just been told you have a placenta previa, you may be wondering how this will affect your growing baby. Read on to find out the chances of it resolving on its own (it probably will!) and what to expect if it does not.
By Sarah Caron

What is placenta previa?
Some placentas implant very low in the cervix. That's called either a low-lying placenta or placenta previa. Placenta previa is a pregnancy condition that affects 1 in 200 pregnancies. When the placenta implants on or near the cervix, it can cause bleeding during pregnancy or worse.  The good news? In more than 90 percent of cases, it clears up before the 36th week of pregnancy.

There are three types of placenta previa: marginal, partial and complete. A marginal previa is near the edge of the cervix, but doesn't actually block it. A partial previa partially covers the cervix. A complete previa completely blocks the cervix, making vaginal delivery impossible.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your chances of developing placenta previa are greater if you've had a previous c-section, are over age 35, smoke, or have had it in a previous pregnancy.

How it is diagnosed
In many cases, like author Anne Orchard, previa will be detected during a routine ultrasound.

"I found out at the first ultrasound scan - I think the person who did the scan mentioned it and referred me back to my midwife. I don't think a lot was made of it, because it was unknown if it would grow away, but I was told that it put into doubt whether I would be able to have a home delivery as I was hoping," Orchard says.

Hoping for change
Since placenta previa resolves itself in most cases, your doctor may not seem overly concerned at first. When Lisa O'Neill's doctor explained the risks and concerns of her previa after discovering it midway through her pregnancy, her doctor told her that in most cases it just resolves itself. "I wasn’t confident, but felt pretty certain. I never have had any type of medical issues whatsoever. The doctor was also fairly positive the placenta would move," O'Neill said.

In her case, the placenta didn't move, and O'Neill was put on bedrest for three weeks prior to delivery after experiencing one of the potential risks: bleeding. Fortunately, it wasn't serious and O'Neill delivered via c-section without incident.

Dangers of previa
Although the chances of in your favor that your pregnancy will progress normally with placenta previa, there are some dangers to be aware of. Placenta previa increases the risk of placenta accreta, where the placenta attaches directly to uterine muscles. It also increases the risk of hemorrhaging during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. For the baby, it raises risks of congenial abnormalities and can lead to nourishment problems in utero. Bleeding can be a sign of something going wrong.

Jayne Dearborn of Designs by Jayne experienced firsthand what can happen as a result of placenta previa. Keep in mind that her experience was an extreme and rare case and most women with placenta previa deliver healthy, full term babies.

"At 30 weeks, I began to bleed heavily and my husband rushed me to the hospital.  After they tried to get my body calmed down with various medications, I had lost too much blood (over 1 liter) and my blood pressure dropped to 50/25.  They rushed me into the operating room for an emergency C-section.  Sam was born at 30 weeks, 3 lbs. 8 oz. and had to be put on a ventilator for 2 weeks.  We had many ups and downs and wasn’t sure he would make it.  But thank god he did and he is my biggest kid," Dearborn said.

What to expect
If you are diagnosed with placenta previa, you will likely have additional ultrasounds throughout your third trimester to check on the condition and placement of the placenta. If the placenta doesn't grow away from the cervix by week 36, then you will most likely have to schedule a Cesarean. Although not ideal, it offers the best possible outcome for the baby.

You may also experience bleeding during pregnancy as a result of the unusual positioning of your placenta. Be sure to call your doctor if this happens, as they will need to check the placenta again.

You may be placed on some degree of rest -- anything from limited activity to full-on bedrest. If you are, just remember that it's all about giving your baby the best possible chance at life. Click here to find out how to stay sane during bedrest.

You aren't alone
Although uncommon, there are many other women who endure placenta previa each year. Talk to others about it and you may learn that they are in the same boat. You can also connect with other moms-to-be online at various women's communities, including the message boards.

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