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 (also called placental 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. If this happens, it is usually in the 3rd trimester.
The placenta is the lifeline of a fetus. Serious problems occur if it detaches. The baby gets less oxygen and fewer nutrients. Some babies become growth restricted (very small), and in a small number of cases, it is fatal. It can also cause significant blood loss 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 provider will:
If your placental abruption is small, your 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 abruption, but you can control the risk factors related to it by:
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: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 19.
Last reviewed on: 11/19/2014
Reviewed by: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.