Many women don’t think much about their placenta because it’s something that usually doesn’t require much thought. For most women, the placenta forms naturally and without the knowledge of the mother at the top of the uterus. But, in some women the placenta forms at the lower half of the uterus and is called a low-lying placenta. A low lying placenta doesn’t have to be a problem, and even if you start out with a low lying placenta it doesn’t mean that you’ll end up having complications near the middle or end of your pregnancy.
A low-lying placenta is often diagnosed at an ultrasound in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy at a time when doctors aren’t necessarily too concerned with the position of the placenta. Many women have a low-lying placenta diagnosed earlier in pregnancy when they experience bright red vaginal bleeding. The vaginal bleeding is caused by growth of the placenta, and because the placenta is hanging over the cervix, the outer layers actually peel off and cause bleeding. The bleeding usually does not pose any threat to the baby, but a large amount of bleeding can cause issues for the mother if it continues.
Even if you have been diagnosed as having a low-lying placenta, there is hope. Many women start out with a low lying placenta, but then as the baby and the placenta grow; it sort of migrates up out of the way of the cervix. It may be a slow process, but don’t be too surprised if at your next ultrasound your placenta is now anything but low-lying. Most women will experience a dramatic change in the area in which the placenta resides, though .5-1% of women will experience little or no change.
If you experience no change, your doctor will keep a close eye on your progress. If you experience heavy bleeding, you may be hospitalized until delivery so that you don’t lose too much blood, risking your life and the life of your baby. While staying in the hospital under observation might not be your idea of fun, it’s the best way for your doctors to determine if your baby needs to be delivered sooner rather than later.
If you arrive at your due date with a low lying or partially covered cervix, you’ll be scheduled for a cesarean section. This might be a blow to your plan for delivery, but in the end it’s the only way to safely deliver your baby because your placenta covers your cervix.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with a low-lying placenta, think positive thoughts. Remember that most women experience a change that allows them to go through their pregnancy and delivery just like every other woman. If your low lying placenta does not improve, it’s going to be okay, it’s just another excuse to take extra special care of yourself and your baby!