What is placenta praevia?

In this article medical negligence solicitors, Blackwater Law discuss a rare but potentially serious condition called placenta praevia which can occur during pregnancy.

What is placenta praevia?

During pregnancy the placenta is the baby’s life support, providing vital oxygen and nutrients to the baby. The placenta also produces hormones to protect your baby and to allow them to grow and develop. In most instances the placenta will attach itself to the lining of the womb in either a posterior (on the back wall, closest to your spine) or anterior (on the front wall of the womb) position. However, in rare cases the placenta can attach and develop in the lower part of the womb, or over the opening of the womb (cervix). In these instances when the placenta is low lying it is referred to as placenta praevia.

How is placenta praevia diagnosed?

The only way to diagnose placenta praevia prior to labour is through an ultrasound scan. At the 18-21 week ultrasound scan the sonographer should record the location of the placenta. If at this point it is thought that the placenta is in a low-lying position then a second scan at around 32 weeks should be offered. If the sonographer or midwife fail to offer a second scan when there is a low-lying placenta it may be possible to seek a birth injury claim, if you or the baby suffer adversely as a result.

In most instances, a low-lying placenta usually resolves itself prior to labour, this is because the placenta moves with the growing uterus. A previous study showed that only 1 in 600 pregnant women had placenta praevia at birth.

In particular there are a few risk categories that place women at a higher risk of placenta praevia:

  • Women who have previously had placenta praevia
  • Women who have had a previous caesarean section
  • Women expecting twins
  • Women who smoke

It is therefore important for medical professionals to identify the risk categories and ensuring appropriate ultrasound scans are taken in order to diagnose those at a high risk.

What steps need to be taken with placenta praevia?

Placenta praevia is unfortunately associated with a higher rate of pregnancy complications including reduced growth for the baby, bleeding and separation of the placenta. This means that more midwifery care may be required and closer monitoring of mother and baby. In instances where additional monitoring was not offered or provided despite a clear diagnosis of placenta praevia and where adverse consequences may have arisen, it may be possible to seek a midwife negligence claim.

A caesarean will be required in order to ensure the baby is delivered safely if placenta praevia is diagnosed at the 32 week scan. If this diagnosis is missed, or if a caesarean is not offered then it may be possible to pursue a hospital negligence claim for any damages that have arisen as a result.

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