During pregnancy, the placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta lies very low in the uterus and covers all or part of the cervix. The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina.

How do you know if you have placenta previa?

The most common symptom of placenta previa is painless bleeding from the vagina during the second half of pregnancy. If you have spotting or bleeding during pregnancy, call your health care provider right away. If the bleeding is severe, go to the hospital.

Not all women with placenta previa have vaginal bleeding. A routine ultrasound can identify placenta previa when there’s no bleeding. In some cases a transvaginal ultrasound is needed to find the placenta’s location. Don’t be too worried if this happens. Placenta previa found in the second trimester fixes itself in most cases.

Is there treatment?

Yes. Treatment depends on how far along you are in pregnancy, the seriousness of your bleeding and the health of you and your baby. The goal of treatment is to keep you pregnant as long as possible. But a c-section may be necessary if you have dangerously heavy bleeding or if you or your baby are having problems.

If you have a lot of bleeding, you may be treated with blood transfusions. You also may get medicines called corticosteroids. These medicines help speed up the development of your baby’s lungs and other organs. Your provider may want you to stay in the hospital until you give birth. If the bleeding stops, you may be able to go home.

If you have severe bleeding at about 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy, your provider may recommend an immediate c-section. If you have bleeding at 36 to 37 weeks, your provider may suggest an amniocentesis. This test checks the amniotic fluid around your baby to see if her lungs are fully developed. If they are, your provider may recommend a c-section to avoid risks of future bleeding.

How can you reduce your risk for placenta previa?

We don’t know how to prevent placenta previa. But you may be able to reduce your risk by not smoking and not using street drugs like cocaine. Another risk for placenta previa is having multiple c-sections. The more c-sections you have, the greater your risk. C-sections should only be for medical reasons. If your pregnancy is healthy, it’s best to let labor begin on its own.

Learn more about placenta previa at: marchofdimes.org