The placenta connects the fetus (unborn baby) to the mother’s uterus. It allows the baby to get nutrients, blood, and oxygen from the mother. It also helps the baby get rid of waste.
Placenta abruptio (abruption) is when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before the baby is born.
In most pregnancies, the placenta stays attached to the upper part of the uterine wall.
In a small number of pregnancies, the placenta detaches (pulls itself from the wall of the uterus) too early. Most of the time, only part of the placenta pulls away. Other times it pulls away completely. This usually happens in the third trimester.
The placenta is the lifeline of a fetus. Serious problems occur if it detaches. The baby gets less oxygen and fewer nutrients. Most babies survive it, but it is fatal for some. It is rarely fatal for the mother.
No one knows what causes placental abruption. But these factors raise a woman’s risk for it:
The most common symptoms are vaginal bleeding and painful contractions. The amount of bleeding depends on how much of the placenta has detached. Sometimes the blood that collects when the placenta detaches stays between the placenta and uterine wall, so you may not have bleeding from your vagina.
If you have any of these symptoms during your pregnancy, tell your health care provider right away.
Your health care provider will:
If your placental abruption is small, your health care provider may put you on bed rest to stop your bleeding. After a few days, most women can usually go back to their normal activities.
For a moderate separation, you will likely need to stay in the hospital. In the hospital:
Severe placental abruption is an emergency. You will need to deliver right away, usually by C-section. It is very rare, but a baby can be stillborn if there is a severe abruption.
You cannot prevent placental abruptio, but you can control the risk factors related to it.
Premature placental separation; Placental separation
Francois KE, Foley MR. Antepartum and postpartum hemorrhage. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 19.
Updated by: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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