Imagine this: a famous electric guitarist is about to strum the final notes of a concert. But all of a sudden, someone rips the plug out of his instrument. Placental abruption during labor is somewhat like that. But its consequences can be much more devastating than a ruined concert finale.
Below, we’ll discuss what placental abruption is, what complications can come from it, and how doctors treat it.
What is Placental Abruption?
The placenta is a vital organ that develops during pregnancy. It’s connected to the uterine wall, and provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus. In a normal pregnancy, it stays put until after the baby is born.
But in cases of placental abruption, the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before delivery. Placental abruption during labor is possible as well.
Placental abruption is a serious medical emergency. It can have devastating consequences on both the mother’s and baby’s health. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. Research estimates it occurs in only about 1% of pregnancies.
What Causes Placental Abruption During Labor?
As we mentioned above, placental abruption can happen long before delivery. It’s rare, but the placenta can detach as early as 20 weeks of gestation.
But sometimes it happens during labor. It’s not always clear why. Many factors can come into play, including:
- Forceful uterine contractions
- Trauma or injury (such as a fall or direct impact)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Previous cigarette smoking, drug use, and alcohol consumption
- Advanced maternal age (over 35)
- Multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Substance abuse during pregnancy. (For example, cocaine may cause placental abruption during labor because it affects blood vessel integrity and blood flow.)
- Infections and inflammation
- Previous history of placental abruption. (This puts women at higher risk of it happening again.)
- Rapid uterine decompression. (Amniotic fluid around the baby suddenly decreases, or the uterus decompresses rapidly during labor.)
Signs of Placental Abruption During Labor
Symptoms of placental abruption during labor can include:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Uterine contractions
- Firm and tense uterus
- Changes in baby’s heart rate
When these signs occur during labor, medical providers need to act fast. A detached placenta can cut off a baby’s vital oxygen supply, causing severe complications.
These symptoms can also show up during pregnancy. If you experience them at any time, you should contact your doctor or go to the hospital right away.
Birth Injuries from Placenta Abruption During Labor
When placental abruption during labor occurs, there’s no time for doctors to twiddle their thumbs. They need to act fast before birth injuries have time to develop, such as:
- Premature birth
- Oxygen deprivation
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
- Fetal growth restriction
- Low birth weight
Complications that can result from placental abruption vary depending on the severity of the situation. The fetus’ overall health factors in as well.
Mild cases of placental abruption might not affect the mother or baby’s health at all, as long as doctors handle them correctly.
Placenta abruption during labor can also take a toll on the mother. Maternal complications include:
- Severe blood loss, sometimes requiring a blood transfusion
- Shock from blood loss, at times leading to death
- Organ damage from blood loss
- Infertility (from requiring a hysterectomy)
Treatment for Placental Abruption During Labor
When placental abruption happens during labor, the baby will need to leave the womb as soon as possible. In some cases, that means a C-section is in order.
Additional treatment may be needed for complications. For example, if a mother is bleeding, her blood pressure may drop. She may need intravenous fluids and blood transfusions to stabilize her condition and prevent shock.
The medical team will also monitor the mother and baby constantly. This should involve frequent assessment of their vital signs. Changes in the baby’s heart rate and other signs of distress will guide the medical team’s decisions regarding the timing and method of delivery.
Placental Abruption and Malpractice
It’s a rare beast, but medical malpractice can rear its ugly head when we least expect it. You would think that signs of placental abruption during labor or pregnancy are unmissable. But there have been cases where doctors don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late.
For example, one woman presented signs of placental abruption, but received no ultrasound or electronic fetal monitoring. She was sent home, and told to visit a better-equipped hospital if her symptoms persisted. 4 hours later she went to the second hospital, but it was too late. Her baby passed away after an emergency C-section. Her lawsuit alleged hospital staff failed to diagnose a partial placental abruption.
Malpractice can also be what causes placental abruption. It’s rare, but it’s possible for doctors to ignore risk factors in pregnancy that lead to this condition.
Do you suspect malpractice occurred during your treatment for placental abruption during labor or pregnancy? If so, contact our lawyers here.