Every person’s blood type includes an Rh factor that is either positive or negative. Rh factor is a protein that can exist on the surface of red blood cells. People who have Rh factor have a positive blood type, such as B+. People who do not have the Rh factor have a negative blood type, such as B-.
Hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) occurs when a mother with Rh negative blood has an Rh positive baby. This incompatibility happens most often when the mother is Rh negative, the father is Rh positive, and the baby inherits the father’s Rh positive factor.
Here’s what can happen:
Rh factor incompatibility is not usually a problem in the first pregnancy, because the baby is delivered before the mother’s body can produce antibodies. But if the mother has another Rh positive baby, and their blood cells cross, her antibodies will attack the baby’s blood cells, which can make the baby anemic.
HDN can cause mild to severe complications:
Newborns who have hemolytic disease may have the following symptoms:
Mercy Kids physicians are experts in treating babies with HDN. Depending on the severity of the disease, treatment may include:
HDN is very preventable. Mercy obstetricians can test pregnant women for the presence of the Rh factor, and take steps to avoid the disease when necessary.
Women who are not Rh sensitized may take a drug known as Rh immunoglobulin (RhIg) or RhoGAM that prevents their antibodies from reacting to Rh positive blood cells.
Women who already are Rh sensitized are monitored throughout their pregnancy for signs of anemia in the fetus. If necessary, a blood transfusion may be given.
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