It’s truly miraculous how many babies are born every year with no complications. Fortunately, with modern technology many problems can be avoided before or during delivery, but with some conditions there are no signs or symptoms that something is wrong. Vasa Previa one such condition that can prove devastating but often goes undetected until it is too late, resulting in a catastrophe of a delivery.
Vasa Previa is a very rare condition that is truly heartbreaking. The condition is one in which the fetal blood vessels are unsupported by the umbilical cord or placental tissues, so the vessels traverse the fetal membranes across the lower segment of the uterus between the baby and the cervix. Vasa Previa has an extremely high mortality rate, as high as 50-100% of Vasa Previa cases end in fetal death. The high mortality rate is caused by the fetal vessels actually tearing when the amniotic membranes rupture during labor. The vessels may also become pinched off as they are compressed between the baby and the walls of the birth canal.
In a pregnancy where Vasa Previa is not observed blood vessels feeding the baby travel from the placenta through the umbilical cord and into the baby’s belly button. With Vasa Previa the insertion of the cord or other placental abnormalities leave parts of these blood vessels unsupported instead of being imbedded in the placenta or umbilical cord. The unsupported vessels are not always life threatening, it’s when these unsupported vessels get caught between the baby and the cervical opening that the fetus is in serious trouble.
Often, these exposed vessels will tear or break, causing bleeding during pregnancy, and other times the bleed will be so large that it will immediately compromise the baby. Many babies will lose half or all of their blood supply in just two to three minutes when the water breaks, explaining why the mortality rate is so high. It’s not just the breaking of water that is dangerous and brings on the child’s demise; it’s also attributed to the thinning and opening of the cervix and pressure from the baby on these vessels. If the vessels become pinches off by the pressure from the baby, the child’s blood supply can be shut down without causing any actual blood loss.
If you have been diagnosed with Vasa Previa or you believe you may have the condition, you need to get with your doctor to determine what type of Vasa Previa you suffer from: multi lobed placenta or velamentous insertion of the umbilical cord. Birth is a time bomb for babies where Vasa Previa is present and it’s important that you understand your condition. Your doctor will be able to discuss options for you and your baby, as well as let you know what to expect. There is a high mortality rate associated with Vasa Previa, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.