Vasa Praevia: The Silent Killer of Healthy, Full Term Babies

It's been accurately described as: the baby sharing the womb with a time bomb. While the parents-to-be have no idea at all that anything is wrong...

I remember the terrifying horror like it was yesterday: the day when our newborn baby, Marcus, died. We lost a perfectly healthy, full term baby boy to vasa praevia. Totally unexpectedly, as is most common. It wasn't diagnosed till Marcus was being delivered. This is also very common.

With Marcus, it had been an uneventful pregnancy: there were no signs that anything was wrong. I went into labour, and began to give birth. But suddenly I started to bleed violently from my vagina. The doctor and nurses were also distressed, and I know they did everything they could. But nothing could have saved my son: Marcus died the same day he was born. You see, it was he who had been bleeding so rapidly -- not me. I learned that Marcus lost more than half his blood supply in just a moment or two. He couldn't maintain his blood pressure, or body temperature. His kidneys stopped functioning. Every organ in his tiny body was shutting down. And then my son, who had been so perfectly healthy just before he was born, died in my arms.

That was in 1971. What’s shocking is that, nearly 40 years later, vasa praevia -- the condition that caused my baby’s death -- is still going largely undetected. An estimated 1 in every 2000 or 3000 healthy, full term babies continue to die as a result. Yet today, this tragedy can be so easily prevented.

In 1971 nothing could be done, because we didn’t have ultrasound technology back then. But today, all it takes is a harmless, transvaginal ultrasound and colour doppler test to detect vasa praevia.

Undetected, vasa praevia results in fetal death 90 ~ 95 % of the time. But when it’s detected – so easily, and long before birth – a caesarean section is performed, and the infant survival rate is nearly 100%.

What is more tragic however, is that it remains not routinely looked for. What I fail to understand is that ultrasound technology is routinely used to detect birth defects at the 16-week mark. And it’s wonderful that they can do that. But surely, the very life of the unborn baby is of far greater importance…

I urge all pregnant women to ask your doctor for this ultrasound test. I urge all doctors to advise your pregnant patients about vasa praevia. And if, gentle reader, your friend or family member is pregnant, please tell them about it.

What is Vasa Praevia and how can these babies be saved? Read the next page...

Comments (6)

Said this on 07-02-10 At 12:44 am
Very well said! I also lost a baby to undiagnosed vasa previa.
Said this on 24-09-10 At 02:38 pm

I also lost my son in June this year with a diagnosed Vasa Previa. Unfortunately my waters broke at home at 35 weeks. My doctor didn't feel it necessary to admit me prior to 36 weeks despite my constant pleas for admission after my diagnosis at 32 weeks. Everyday I still ask how this is happening when the survival rate is so high when the proper scans and management is followed. I hope the doctors start taking more responsibility for the lives of the babies lost -- with modern day medicine there is no excuse.  

Said this on 04-11-12 At 06:56 am

On Tuesday we will bury my beautiful granddaughter.  We are devastated!  Why wasn't this diagnosed?

Said this on 09-08-11 At 05:53 pm

I lost my daughter who was diagnosed with Vasa Previa due to bleeding. I was offered to go home. I begged to stay. Unfortunately, despite spending 7 weeks in the hospital to avoid this tragedy,  the OB oncall that night kept underestimating the bleeding and maybe didn't read the case properly. It took her 40 minutes to decide, and then she complicated matters by giving a spinal anaesthesia instead of general anaestesia. OB's: please take Vasa Praevia seriously. I also think that the medical guidelines should be revised, regarding the urgency of the situation when a rupture happens and regarding clarity on the type of anaethesia required. I am sorry to say that despite medical advances, we still lose perfectly healthy babies because of malpractice and irresponsibilty of some physicians.

Said this on 21-10-11 At 11:46 am

This website was very helpful to me. My son is now 2 years old and we had Vasa Praveia. It was not detected during regular checkups. At my 36th week check-up, the doctor ruptured the vessels with a manual exam. He thought he broke my water. I rushed to the ER and the horror began. I laid for 2 days without knowing anything. Doctors were scared to check me because as soon as the exam was performed I would gush blood. Day 3: they decided to start with “Patosin” and after some hours they took me off. It did not work. Day 4: a wonderful doctor decided to perform a c-section. And my son was born, healthy as can be. It was only after research and further examination of previous ultrasounds did they finally rule that it was Vasa Previa. I agree: this is serious and more coloured ultrasounds should be used.

Said this on 22-03-13 At 12:36 pm

I started bleeding profusely while at a pre-natal class.  My husband rushed me to the hospital, and I continued to bleed all night.  My baby (who is now 11) has CP, chronic kidney failure and the left side of his brain is completely damaged.  I began bleeding at 8 p.m and my OB did not deliver him (by emergency c-section) until 8:am the next day.  This is something I'd never heard about.  I wonder if I can re-open my case against the doctor and the hospital for not delivering him when I first was admitted.  This will be a lifelong problem for him.  I was at 39 1/2 weeks.

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