Placenta: Your Baby's Lifeline

Placental Abruption

What it is: A condition in which the placenta peels away from the uterine wall before delivery, usually in the third trimester, but it can occur as early as 20 weeks' gestation.

Health dangers: Abruption can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients, cause bleeding in the mother, and increase the risk of preterm delivery.

Risk factors: Uncontrolled high blood pressure; smoking; use of illegal drugs (such as cocaine); abdominal trauma; abnormalities of the uterus or the umbilical cord; being older than 35; carrying multiples; premature rupture of the membranes (water breaking too early); having too little amniotic fluid.

Signs and symptoms: Vaginal bleeding, sometimes accompanied by uterine discomfort and tenderness, or sudden, continuous abdominal pain.

Diagnosis and treatment: A hospital exam and an ultrasound. If you have a mild abruption at term, your provider may recommend prompt delivery (either by inducing labor or a c-section) to avoid any risks associated with a worsening abruption. In many cases, women in the early stages of pregnancy are admitted to the hospital for monitoring. If tests show that mother and baby are doing well, the mother will receive drugs to help speed the maturation of the baby's lungs and decrease the risk of newborn complications if a premature delivery occurs.

However, if the abruption progresses, you begin to experience heavy bleeding, or the baby is having difficulties (not getting enough oxygen, for example), then prompt delivery, usually by cesarean section, will be necessary.

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