Fetal Blood Transfusion

Our red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of our bodies, and are vitally important to our health. When the amount or quality of our red blood cells is too low, the condition is known as anemia. When a baby in the womb develops anemia, it's called fetal anemia. If the anemia is serious, the baby may require a blood transfusion while they are still in the uterus. This procedure is called an intrauterine transfusion or fetal blood transfusion.

Intrauterine transfusion involves injecting red blood cells from a donor into the fetus. The goal of this treatment is to prevent complications of anemia and provide the baby with an adequate supply of red blood cells to keep them healthy until delivery.

How is an Intrauterine Transfusion Done?

The maternal and fetal medicine specialists at Mercy perform fetal blood transfusions in the hospital. The mother receives local anesthesia and a sedative given through an IV; this also sedates the fetus and minimizes movement during the procedure.

Ultrasound is used to see the position of the fetus in the uterus, and the surgeon inserts a needle into the mother’s abdomen. Red blood cells from a donor whose blood type is compatible with the baby’s are passed through the needle into either the umbilical cord vein or the fetus’ abdomen.

Depending on the severity of the anemia, additional fetal transfusions may be needed until the baby’s birth. Your care team will let you know how many transfusions your baby may need.

Intrauterine transfusions rarely have complications. However, like every surgical procedure, there may be risks, including:

  • Fetal distress and the need for cesarean section delivery
  • Premature labor
  • Infection
  • Cramping
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge

We know that fetal anemia and other complications can be alarming, and our maternal and fetal medicine experts are here to help you and your growing baby stay healthy throughout your pregnancy. And if problems persist with your baby after birth, Mercy Kids' neonatologists and pediatric hematologists are ready to care for all your newborn's medical needs.

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