What is Low Placenta (Plasenta Previa)?

What is placenta previa?

Placenta previa, or low-lying placenta, occurs when the placenta covers part or all of the cervix during the last months of pregnancy. This condition can cause severe bleeding before or during delivery.

The placenta develops inside a woman’s uterus during pregnancy. This sac-like organ supplies the developing baby with food and oxygen. It also removes waste products from the baby’s blood. The placenta is also called “postnatal” because it leaves the body after the baby is born.

During pregnancy, the placenta moves as the uterus lengthens and grows. It is normal for the placenta to be low in the uterus during early pregnancy. As the pregnancy continues and the uterus lengthens, the placenta typically moves towards the top of the uterus. In the third trimester, the placenta should be near the top of the uterus. This position allows the cervix to be the cervix at the cervix or an open pathway for entry.

If the placenta attaches to the lower part of the uterus, it may cover part or all of the cervix. When the placenta covers part or all of the cervix during the last months of pregnancy, this condition is known as placenta previa or low-lying placenta. Most women with this disease will require bed rest.

Symptoms associated with placenta previa

The main symptom is heavy bleeding from the vagina. However, if any of the following symptoms occur, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • cramping or sharp pains
  • bleeding starts, stops and starts again days or weeks later
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • bleeding in the second half of pregnancy

Risk factors for the development of placenta previa

Risk factors for developing placenta previa include:

  • unusual position of the baby: breech (hip first) or transverse (running horizontally across the uterus)
  • previous surgeries involving the uterus: cesarean delivery, surgery to remove uterine fibroids, dilation and curettage
  • being pregnant with twins or other multiples
  • miscarriage
  • large placenta
  • abnormally shaped uterus
  • having already given birth to a child
  • prediagnosis of placenta previa
  • be over 35 years old
  • being Asian
  • be a smoker

Read more: How does endometriosis affect pregnancy? »

How is placenta previa diagnosed?

Usually, the first signs of placenta previa will appear during a routine 20-week ultrasound scan. These initial symptoms are not necessarily cause for concern, as the placenta is often lower in the uterus early in a woman’s pregnancy.

The placenta usually corrects itself. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, only 10 percent of cases will go on to develop as complete placenta previa.

If you experience any bleeding during the second half of your pregnancy, doctors will monitor the placental position using one of the following preferred methods:

  • Transvaginal ultrasound: Your doctor inserts a probe inside the vagina to provide an inside view of your vaginal canal and cervix. This is the preferred and most accurate method for determining placenta previa.
  • Transabdominal ultrasound: A healthcare technician places gel on your abdomen and moves a handheld device called a transducer around your abdomen to view the pelvic organs. Sound waves create an image on a TV-like screen.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This imaging scan will help pinpoint the location of the placenta.

Types of placenta previa

There are four types of placenta previa, ranging from small to large. Each will have its own impact on whether a mother can deliver naturally or have to have a cesarean delivery. Placenta previa treatment is done according to the type you have.


The placenta only partially covers the opening of the cervix. Vaginal delivery is still possible.

Low Lying

This type begins in early to mid-pregnancy. The placenta is located at the edge of the cervix and there is a high probability of vaginal delivery.


The placenta begins to grow at the bottom of the uterus. The placenta is normally pushed against the cervix but is not covered. Because the placental border touches the inner opening of the cervix, any overlap during delivery can cause minor bleeding. However, vaginal births are normally safe.

large or full

This is the most serious type. In common placenta previa, the placenta eventually covers the entire cervix. C-sections are usually recommended and in severe cases the baby may need to be delivered prematurely.

Any heavy or uncontrollable bleeding may require an emergency cesarean section to protect you and your baby.

Placenta previa treatment

Doctors decide how to treat your placenta previa based on:

  • amount of bleeding
  • month of pregnancy
  • baby’s health
  • placenta and baby position

The amount of bleeding is the doctor’s main consideration when deciding how to treat the disease.

From minimal to no bleeding

In cases of placenta previa with minimal or no bleeding, your doctor will likely recommend bed rest. This means resting in bed as much as possible and standing and sitting only when absolutely necessary. You will also be asked to abstain from sex and possible exercise. If bleeding occurs during this time, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

heavy bleeding

Severe cases of bleeding may require hospital bed rest. Depending on the amount of blood lost, you may need a blood transfusion. You may need to take medication to prevent premature labor.

In the case of heavy bleeding, your doctor will recommend scheduling a C-section as soon as you can safely – preferably after 36 weeks. If the C-section needs to be scheduled sooner, your baby may be given an injection of corticosteroids to boost lung growth.

uncontrollable bleeding

In case of uncontrolled bleeding, an emergency cesarean delivery will be required.

Complications of placenta previa

During labor, the cervix will open to allow the baby to enter the vaginal canal for delivery. If the placenta is in front of the cervix, it begins to separate when the cervix is ​​opened, causing internal bleeding. This may require emergency C-section even if the baby is premature as the mother can bleed to death if no action is taken. Vaginal delivery also poses a lot of risk to the mother, who may experience serious bleeding during labor, delivery, or the first few hours after delivery.

Help and support for expectant mothers

A diagnosis of placenta previa can be worrisome for expectant mothers. Mayo Clinic offers some ideas for how you can deal with your condition and prepare yourself for delivery.

Be educated: The more you know, the more you know what will happen. Get in touch with other women who have had placenta previa deliveries.

Be prepared for your cesarean delivery: Depending on your placenta previa type, you may not be able to have a vaginal delivery. It’s good to remember the ultimate goal – your and your baby’s health.

Enjoy bed rest: If you’re active, bed rest can feel shut down. However, you can use the time wisely by catching up on small projects such as:

  • put together a photo album
  • write a letter
  • reading about the upcoming lifestyle change

Pamper yourself: Indulge in small pleasures such as:

  • buying a comfortable pair of pajamas
  • read a good book
  • watching your favorite TV show
  • keep a gratitude journal

Be sure to rely on your circle of friends and family for conversation and support.


Eichelberger, KY, Haeri, S., Kessler, DC, Swartz, A., Herring, A., and Wolfe, HM (2011, June 9). American Journal of Perinatology, 28 (9), 735-740

Placenta praevia, placenta praevia accreta and vasa praevia: diagnosis and treatment. (2014, January)

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, 9 May). placenta previa received

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