What is Placenta Previa?
Placenta previa occurs in about 1 out of every 250 pregnancies. Many times, previa is detected in the third trimester, but it's sometimes spotted at as early as 17 weeks, usually either in a routine ultrasound or because some bleeding or pain is occurring.
In this condition the placenta lies low in the uterus and may grow to partially or completely cover the opening of the uterus, the cervix.
There are two type of placenta previa – minor and major.
- Major: Placenta is in lower uterine segment, but the lower edge does not cover the opening of the uterus.
- Minor: Placenta is in lower uterine segment, and the lower edge covers the opening of the uterus.
The concern with placenta previa is that the placenta blocks the birth canal, either partially or completely. While you can have a vaginal birth with placenta previa, the placenta could be pulled from the uterine wall when the cervix dilates during labor. This could cause bleeding and potentially be harmful to you and your baby, meaning a c-section delivery may be necessary.
Many cases of placenta previa resolve themselves as the uterus grows and the placenta naturally moves upward. In more pronounced cases, the previa completely covers the cervical opening and will not move far enough up, regardless of treatment. In these cases, a caesarian section delivery is a necessary miracle.
Because of the risks, if you're planning a home birth, placenta previa will need to be resolved before your midwife will give the go ahead to birth at home.
Chinese Medicine's Approach to Placenta Previa
Debra Betts (2006) notes in her book, Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth,
Although it has been estimated that as many as 30% of placentas on ultrasound are positioned low at 20 weeks gestation, less than 1% require further monitoring by 32 weeks, with only a small proportion of these requiring any medical intervention.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views placenta previa as “sinking Qi.” Additional symptoms that such a patient may experience might include digestive complaints, frequent bruising, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and a tendency to depression. The goal of treatment is raise and fortify the Qi, stop bleeding, and calm the fetus.
TCM Treatment for Placenta Previa
TCM practitioners use two techniques in treatment for placenta previa: herbal formulas and acupuncture. Usually, practitioners employ a combination of these two treatments, which provide a safe treatment option that can be effective in helping to resolve this condition in cases where the previa is minor.
- Herbal Formulas – An experienced TCM practitioner will administer an herbal formula designed specifically for your condition. Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang is a classic Chinese formula used for raising Qi. It's very safe for pregnancy and is often used to prevent recurring miscarriages as well as for treating placenta previa.
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture treatments are quite successful in minor cases of previa. Your practitioner will recommend a schedule of acupuncture sessions to treat your individual condition. Du 20 is the key acupuncture point for treating placenta previa. Located at the very top of the head, and it's very effective at raising Qi.
In my own acupuncture practice, I've treated many moms with placenta previa. In nearly all cases of partial previa, the condition resolved itself while the patients were undergoing regular weekly acupuncture and taking herbs daily.
In more pronounced cases where the placenta was too low lying to resolve, treatment helped to improve the patients' underlying imbalances which seemed to improved their overall health and sense of wellbeing.
What's been your experience with placenta previa?