The placenta is the baby’s lifeline during pregnancy, it’s an organ which grows in the womb and is connected to the baby via the umbilical cord; it provides baby with Oxygen and nutrients which pass from your blood supply into the placenta and are then carried to your baby via the umbilical cord; carbon dioxide and other waste products are also carried away from the baby by the umbilical cord to the placenta and then into your bloodstream for disposal. Hormones produced by the placenta help your baby grow and develop; It offers your baby protection against bacterial infections while in the womb, and towards the end of pregnancy it passes antibodies from you to your baby which should give him or her immunity for about three months after birth. However, it only passes on antibodies that you already have.
In 2013 the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) published a study which found that placental abruption affects 0.7% – 1% of pregnancies; however, according to Tommy’s it is suspected that this figure may be higher as abruption isn’t always diagnosed. This is a serious condition in which the placenta begins to detach from the uterus, meaning that the baby can become starved of oxygen and nutrients.
Causes and Risk Factors
Very often the cause of abruption is unknown; however, there are factors that can increase the risk. These are:
- Abdominal trauma – maybe from a fall or a car accident
- Previous placental abruption
- High blood pressure
- If your waters have broken prematurely
- Blood-clotting disorders
- Multiple pregnancy – the delivery of the first baby can cause changes in the uterus that trigger placental abruption before the other baby or babies are delivered.
- Maternal age – women over 40
- Using drugs (especially cocaine) in pregnancy
- Previous caesarean birth
- History of recurrent miscarriages
Placental abruption occurs most frequently in the last trimester of pregnancy (especially in the last few weeks) and symptoms include:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Uterine tenderness
- Rapid uterine contractions, often coming one right after another
Abdominal pain and back pain often begin suddenly and the amount of bleeding can vary. If the blood becomes trapped inside the uterus by the placenta it is also possible to have a severe placental abruption with no visible bleeding. In some cases, placental abruption develops slowly. If this happens, you might notice light, intermittent vaginal bleeding. Your baby might not grow as quickly as expected, and you might have low amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios) or other complications
If you notice any of the symptoms then please get medical help immediately because they may signify an emergency.
The treatment for placental abruption will depend on the severity and gestation. Women under 34 weeks with a minor placental abruption are usually monitored closely in hospital, your care provider will ensure that baby is growing correctly, and will also look for any signs of preterm labour. If there is a risk of your baby not growing properly then labour may be induced. 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.
Placental abruption can cause life-threatening problems for both mother and baby.
- Shock due to blood loss
- Blood clotting problems (disseminated intravascular coagulation)
- The need for a blood transfusion
- Failure of the kidneys or other organs
- Oxygen and nutrient deprivation
- Premature birth
The study showed that:
19% of cases were stillborn, 11% of new born baby’s had an apgar score under 7 at 5 minutes, 34% of newborn baby’s had weight less than 2500g (2.5kg or 5lb 8oz) and 40% of newborn babies were admitted to NICU.
Have you suffered with placental abruption? Please feel free to share your story