Low Lying Placenta – What Does It Mean?

Low Lying Placenta - What Does It Mean?
Photo Credit: jushik / Shutterstock.com

Following conception, the placenta implants itself somewhere in your uterus, in no specific position.

It may choose to implant low, high, posterior (back) or anterior (front).

After an ultrasound — usually the 20 week scan — you may be told that you have a low lying placenta, meaning the placenta has implanted low down in your uterus, close to your cervix.

This is reported in around 5% of pregnancies.

There is absolutely no need to worry if you are amongst this 5% – you can continue your daily activities as per normal unless you have been advised otherwise.

Usually restrictions like no sex or lifting etc are prescribed to women who have placenta previa (placenta covering their cervix) and or those who experience blood loss due to a low lying placenta.

But rest assured, as you doctor may tell you, there is a very high chance that a low lying placenta will be higher at a later scan.

In your third trimester (until around 36 weeks) the bottom part of your uterus does most of it’s growing and stretching, taking the placenta with it. It doesn’t ‘migrate’ upwards, but being attached to the uterine wall, it’s carried upwards with it. In 0.5% of cases, the placenta doesn’t move up with the uterus – so given that small percent, there is an extremely good chance that your placenta will not be covering your cervix when it’s time to give birth, enabling you to have a vaginal birth.

If you have a low lying placenta at 18-20 weeks, this does not mean you need a caesarean section. The placenta will highly likely be further away from the cervix at the end of your pregnancy. In your first and second trimesters, the uterus still has much growing to do, so an ultrasound late in your third trimester (after the uterus has finished growing) will give you and your doctor or midwife a better picture of what’s really going on – and if it really a matter of concern.

How Close To The Cervix Can My Placenta Be?

Doctors have different limits for how low they are happy for the placenta to be before they will tell you that you shouldn’t have a vaginal birth. It can be useful to get second/third opinions on a low placenta if you would like to avoid a caesarean section. Some doctors will be happy with the placenta to be above 2cms (20mm) from the os (cervix) and some prefer 3cms (30mm). Given the variation from doctor to doctor in measurements, if you want a chance to birth vaginally, you most definitely should be given the opportunity, unless the cervix is covered by the placenta and/or there are concerns due to bleeding – in which case you should seek medical advice immediately.

A birth client of mine had a low lying placenta (she was birthing in a large Melbourne public hospital) and her experience was that depending on which of the rotating obstetricians she saw in the check-up appointments, they would be happy for her (or not) to give vaginal birth a go, depending on their opinion of what was safe. This is no way to enjoy your pregnancy, worrying about who you’re going to get and if they are going to trust your body to give labour a go or not. Try to find out what distance the placenta is from the cervix and ask your doctor or midwife if they would be willing to support your wishes for a vaginal birth (should it not move, as well as what measurement they want it to be). If they wont support you, you may like to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

“My placenta was low lying (15mm or 1.5cms) at 20 weeks. Repeat scan at 27 weeks showed that it had moved to 40mm (4cms) and at the birth it became retained. I had to have it manually removed under a general anaesthetic – it had moved all the way up and became stuck in the fundus of my uterus!” — Amy, BB Member

Giving Birth After Previous Low Lying Placenta

If you’ve had a low lying placenta in previous pregnancies, it doesn’t mean it will happen again. The placenta does just attach itself where it pleases and in some cases its just bad luck.

“I had a low lying placenta with my first bub. But my second, third, fourth and fifth have been fine – PHEW!” — Linda, BB Member

Low Lying Placentas Resulting In Intervention

Here are some members stories about low lying placenta that needed medical assistance. If you experience vaginal bleeding at any point in your pregnancy, especially if you have a diagnosed low lying placenta or placenta previa, you should seek medical advice immediately.

Kitty’s Low Lying Placenta Story

“At 20 weeks I was told the placenta was adjacent to my cervix and not to worry, as 99% of cases sort themselves out. At 28 weeks I had bleeding. A scan at hospital revealed the placenta partially covering the cervix, not sure how much though. I was given two steroid shots, sent home after a week in hospital on bed rest. I was told no sex, no being more than 30 mins from hospital in case of haemorrhaging, no picking up anything heavier than what I could pick up in one hand, no walking long distances and no going anywhere by myself just in case.

At 32 weeks I was bleeding again. I had a scan at hospital but I wasn’t told whether it was worse than the 28 week scan. I was given another steroid shot and was supposed to have another scan 36 weeks to check where placenta was and make the decision on the birth plan. I was sent home after about 4-5 days in hospital again on bed rest. Was still bleeding slightly over the weekend so went back to hospital on the Monday at 33+6 weeks. They did a vaginal examination and I was kept in hospital for monitoring.

I was 34 weeks on the Tuesday and had a large bleed with a clot about the size of a peach, resulting in an emergency caesarean section.”

Jennifer13’s Low Lying Placenta Story

“My low lying placenta was picked up at both the 12 and 18 week scans. Was never over the cervix, just close. I had no bleeding and didn’t need to take any precautions. The scan at 37 weeks showed that the placenta was still low, but not over. It was about 1.7cm from cervix when the obstetrician wanted it to be 2cms away. I was advised to have an elective caesarean at 39 weeks. I tried to research outcomes for labour with that proximity to cervix, with not much luck and my obstetrician was a bit dismissive of my efforts to look into it further. I had the caesarean at 39 weeks.

BUT in hindsight and after much research, I think I should have sought a second opinion. With no bleeding and a baby that had engaged, I believe I would have been fine for a vaginal birth. At the very least, even my obstetrician acknowledged I would have been okay to go into labour and go from there. There would have only been the need to keep a close eye on how things progressed. Allowing labour to start naturally would have been beneficial for my tiny 2.5 kg baby too. She could have done with the extra week or so on the inside, plus the hormones that kickstart birth.

With no complications at all, I think I was given overly cautious advice and a probably an unnecessary caesarean. I have since found very similar cases online that did manage to have vaginal births without undue complications (some extra blood loss seemed to be the extent). Mine was not a previa and should not have been treated as such. Plus, that extra 3mm was not that unlikely if I’d stayed pregnant until 40 weeks. I had a very small baby and uterus and I think this impacted the growth/movement.”

Low Lying Placentas Requiring No Intervention

In a vast majority of cases, low lying placenta resolves itself and is nothing to worry about. Here are some member stories on their low lying placentas and needing no further intervention.

Pholi’s Low Lying Placenta Story

“At the 20 week scan it was picked up that the placenta was 2cm from cervix. I was told it was borderline, that there was a 95% chance it would have ‘moved away’ by the time of my baby’s birth (except they explained that the placenta doesn’t move, but as the uterus grows the edge of the placenta becomes less close to the cervix) and that I should still be hoping for a vaginal birth from that point of view. Was booked for a re-scan at 34 weeks. At 34 weeks it was confirmed to be well out of the way of the cervix, but I was not given a measurement, just assured that it was completely fine. The obstetrician reiterated that the position was no obstacle to my goal of a vaginal birth. I birthed my baby vaginally, with vacuum assistance, at 40+5. No complications to do with placental position.”

Taurean’s Low Lying Placenta Story

“I found out I had a low lying placenta at the 20 week scan, so another scan was booked for 32 weeks. At 32 weeks the placenta had moved a lot – around 7cm for memory. It continued to move. I went into spontaneous labour at 38+5, waters broke around 7.30am at home and my daughter was born at 3.10pm. I had no issues at all with my next birth.”

The Flying Butter’s Low Lying Placenta Story

“My low lying placenta partially covering the cervix was picked up at the 18 week scan. I was told it would probably move and not to worry. No-one said anything at the 20 week scan, so I figured it had moved by then. No-one said anything at a 30 week scan either. The placenta did not affect birthing at all.”

Meg’s Low Lying Placenta Story

“I had a low lying placenta in my 4th pregnancy – it was picked up at 13 weeks due to bleeding. Because of the bleeding, I was told to reduce heavy lifting. It was confirmed at the 20 week scan that the placenta was 2cm from my cervix and I was told that it should most likely move out of the way. Had another scan at 28 weeks and the placenta was well out of way, I think 8cm. Birthed vaginally at 40 weeks, no complications.”

What If My Placenta Is Covering The Cervix?

Placenta previa — which means placenta first — is a rare condition which occurs in around 0.5% of pregnancies. So although it does happen, the chances of this are quite low. Instead of implanting on the uterine wall, the placenta implants partly or wholly over the cervix. For more information, check out our article on placenta previa.

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Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.

  1. Good day Dr. Winder! Your article really answered pretty much most of my questions about my wife’s case and took off some of the worries. Can’t thank you enough already! My wife’s still on her 16th week of her pregnancy. She was recently admitted due to vaginal bleeding to one of the trusted private hospitals here in the Phillipines, after 3 days of admission she was discharged. She was diagnosed to have a ‘low placenta’ but thankfully though, the ultrasound results showed that the baby is completely fine. Though she was advised to take bed rest. The bleeding didn’t really stop but we were advised by our OB not to worry after lab results were evaluated. I can’t help but worry since it’s still going to be our 2nd child after 6 years though it was supposed to be 3rd already but she got miscarriage last year. The bleeding still occurs until today. Our doctor prescribed Duvadilan and Utrogestan to be taken to stop the contraction and avoid possible infections if I’m not mistaken. Ironically, contraction continued to occur until she stopped taking the said medicine. I don’t know at what point should I be convinced that the situation is completely fine and I can’t tell when to or not to worry. I guess what I need is an assurance that no complications should happen at some point. I only have limited income so it adds up on my worries especially that our company’s health insurance doesn’t cover maternity related diagnoses but only prenatal checkups. I work as a customer service representative for a company outsourced by Weightwatchers, US. Needless to say but I’m not so satisfied with how my doctor makes us understand about the case. She’s not that proactive with giving explanation until we ask and I’m worried if I didn’t ask enough. I’m sorry, I just realized that I have overused the word “worry” in this statement. I would highly appreciate if you could give a piece of advice about my overall situation. Kudos to you, among the related articles that I’ve read so far, your article was the only one that made most sense. Thank you again. May you have a wonderful day!

  2. My is 18weeks +6days and the doctor said the placenta covered the my vagina where d baby will come out frm.But I should repeat scan at 36weeks.I believe God that before then the placenta would move up

  3. At 20 weeks check up my placenta was low also, doctor told me not to worry it will move up eventually.
    At 28 weeks I had slight bleeding, ultrasound shows placenta is still low but all is well. I was informed to just rest.
    At 30 weeks I had severe bleeding, passing huge amount of clots that doctors had to do an emergency cesarean right away.
    My baby boy is now one year old and perfectly healthy. Thank God

  4. My doctor just told me I’m 15 weeks and 5 day that my placenta is low do I have any thing to worry about they told me it might go up but I have 7 kids this is my first time hearing bout this should I be scared I need answers

  5. I too have a low lying posteria placenta and at my 32 week scan it was still touching the OS. I saw my obs at 34 weeks and she hasn’t made me feel confident that it will move. I have a repeat scan at 36+3. My first 2 deliveries were uncomplicated vaginal births so I’m feeling quite anxious at the possibility of a c-section. Is it common for the placenta to still move this late?

  6. At 21 week ultrasound placenta was 6 mm from cervix. No bleeding. Midwive does not think it will move to 2cm. Anyone have theirs that close and still move? I am feeling stressed with the thought of a csection

  7. I’m 19 weeks and 6days today , went hospital for the scanning . And told I have anterior low lying placenta, but it’s not close to the cervix , I’m still worrying we had an idea to fly back to my home but it takes nearly 12 hours from the country where I’m now , we came here for the fertility treatment. My doctor make me more scared of my situation . And given me an other scan at 22 weeks, I’m now worrying so much …
    Anyone else had a success stories please help or advice much appreciated
    Thank you

  8. Hi! Thank you for the article. I have not had any issues thus far with my low lying placenta. Just had my 32 week ultrasound and my placenta has moved about 3cm away. I still have to speak with my doctor, but could it move away even more? Im hoping to birth vaginally like my last pregnancy. Thanks for your time!

  9. I had partial previa on my 28th week of pregnancy. I was so worried then, thinking of having c section because what I want is a normal delivery. I repeat my ultrasound after 10 days and learned that from partial previa it is now low lying. My OB told me that it is very much possible to move- Thank God!
    I am scheduled for another ultrasound on my 36th week to check if my placenta is on its proper position so I could have a normal delivery.
    Keep praying because it’s true that with God nothing is impossible! 🙂

  10. I have a question if that’s ok. I had my 34 scan which indicated my placenta was low 1.7 They booked me a scan agaun for 37 weeks. I really don’t want to have c- section. I am seeing the Consultant before my next scan which makes no sense I’m now 35 weeks have no birth plan in place & at no point has anyone said that I should take it easy, I’m still working & very confused. can anyone advise me pls

  11. Hi in my 18th week scan doctor told low laying placenta , I wan to go my native its 12 hrs of journey , can I go in this situation ….

  12. Dear Kelly a very comprehensive and good article.I m really thankfull for your efforts to make us understand Placenta problem.I had bleeding in 14 wks and then was hospitalized for 3 days.After that i had little spotting 3 to 4 times.Now i m 21 wks and i did not had any spotting since last 3 wks.i have following 2 questions :-
    1. Weather my placenta is at right position.
    2. Will doctor all me to have sex with my hubby . because its been without since last 8 wks,i m feeling frustration.
    I ll be really grateful for your advice

    1. Hello Asmay! The placenta grows up with the uterus, so your situation may change. Usually doctors will do an ultrasound towards the end of your third trimester if placenta placement is an issue, so you can ask for that.

      As for sex, it’s definitely a question to ask your doctor, because there is not enough information to know how high/low your placenta is or if there are any other complications. So you need to ask your doctor for any medical questions. If he or she hasn’t said anything, I would assume it would be okay, but it’s always worth asking, for reassurance at the least. Good luck!

  13. My son has told me that his wife has a low laying placenta and she may have to have a c-section he t ells me that she may not be able to sit up or pick up baby or even hardly get out of bed Thre whole thing is at about 27 wks along what kind of. C..sections would put her on bed rest after baby or just sitting up by herself or picking up her own baby or even walk around I had a C Section and I was fine after a few days sore but ok

  14. Hello ,

    I have a Low anterior Placenta at 18 weeks scan by last week. Its 0.8cm (8mm) as of last sat. will it move up when i take during 27 weeks scan.

  15. I’m 9 weeks and 5 days pregnant I had an urgent doctors appointment yesterday due to bleeding she gave me an internal check up and told me not to worry as it’s a low laying placenter she didn’t really explain what it means I am clueless to it all as this is my first pregnancy please can somebody help me out I’ve read the article and it has helped but I would like to know from somebody who’s had this experience

  16. Hi,

    I cant thank you enough for such a detailed article which has relaxed my nerves to great extent. we live in Pakistan, my wife, 19 weeks and 5 days pregnant(1st time to be mother), got an ultrasound and doctor has diagnosed posterior low lying placenta. She advised to refrain from sex, heavy lifts and stairs. Doctor mentioned that there are certain chances that it will move, otherwise, it may lead to cesarean. would highly appreciate if you could share expert advice.

  17. I had a scan at 35+6weeks. It showed my placenta was low lying at 3.21cm away from Os. I have been asked to have a repeat scan at 37 weeks. Is there a chance that it will move and what’s d possibility of a vaginal birth? If labour will be given a trial, I’ve heard it must be induced? Does that mean I ll have to travail for a long time??? Plz dz my first issue and I’m really worried.

  18. Good day Dr Kelly. My gyne diagnosed me wth low lying placenta 4cm away from my cervix. due to a light bleeding about a week now. I’m 16+6 weeks now. There is any hope that I would carry my baby till term. Please help…..

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