Red blood cells carry oxygen to cells and organs throughout our bodies – without them, our cells would die. Anemia happens when red blood cells are lacking in number or quality, and can’t properly nourish our cells and organs. When this happens to a growing baby during pregnancy, it is called fetal anemia.
Fetal anemia can range from mild to serious and may cause many complications. In severe cases, the baby’s heart tries to compensate for the lack of red blood cells by pumping extra hard, which can lead to fetal heart failure.
Fetal anemia may have several causes, including:
Fetal anemia may be detected during pregnancy through prenatal testing. Some tests may be routine, while others may be performed to check specifically for fetal anemia.
Prenatal ultrasound can detect signs of fetal heart failure or unusual blood flow in a vessel.
Maternal blood testing can detect specific antibodies that may cause anemia in the baby.
Amniocentesis can test the amniotic fluid to determine how red blood cells are breaking down in the fetal circulatory system. A needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen to collect a sample of amniotic fluid. In most cases, an ultrasound can detect fetal anemia, so an amniocentesis is rarely needed for diagnosis.
Fetal blood sampling tests blood from the umbilical vein to look for anemia. This test is similar to amniocentesis, but the needle is guided by ultrasound into the umbilical vein.
Mercy maternal and fetal medicine specialists closely monitor and treat fetal anemia to help keep your baby as healthy as possible throughout pregnancy and delivery. In mild cases, monitoring may be all you need to ensure the anemia does not cause problems.
If the anemia is more severe, your baby may need a blood transfusion while in the womb. This procedure is done in the hospital. The blood is transfused through a needle placed into the umbilical vein. Depending on your baby’s anemia, we may recommend additional transfusions. Your care team will discuss your treatment plan with you and answer any questions you may have.
Most newborns with fetal anemia are healthy, although jaundice is not uncommon. If your newborn has jaundice that requires treatment, Mercy’s neonatologists are ready to care for your baby with expertise and compassion. Our Neonatal Intensive Care Units offer advanced, round-the-clock care for premature or critically ill babies.
At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of treatment services, including: