Many couples have worries regarding blood groups and how they affect pregnancy. One area of concern is the baby’s health if the mother is RH-. Find out what to do in such a situation.
By Dr Rajeshwari Pawar
If you are aware of your blood group, it will save precious time and possibly your life, in case of an emergency requiring blood transfusion, as there will be no need to carry out blood tests. Similarly, it is very important that expectant parents are aware of their blood groups, as this has a bearing on the health of the baby in the womb. That information is easily available on the identification papers you carry with you.
Many people worry about how their own blood groups and those of their partners will affect the health of their unborn child. Most of the time, the blood groups of the parents will not be a problem for the baby or the mother. The exception is when the mother is Rh-.
A baby can inherit the blood group of either one of the parents. The vast majority of people come under the Rh+ group, but between 5% and 10% of Indians fall under the Rh- category.
If the mother is Rh+ and the father Rh-, there is usually no risk to the unborn child. However, that’s not the case if the situation is reversed.
If the father is Rh+ and the mother is Rh-, the baby could be either Rh- or Rh+. If the child is Rh- there will not be a problem, as the group is the same as that of the mother in this case. But if the baby is Rh+, complications are possible.
These could occur if a bit of the baby’s blood – even as small an amount as 0.4 ml – gets into the mother’s bloodstream. The mother’s body will treat this blood as ‘foreign’ and start forming antibodies. Nanoparticles of these antibodies can cross the placenta and attack the unborn child’s blood cells, causing the baby to become anaemic.
To counter this, the baby’s heart will start pumping harder, and this may lead to cardiac failure. The baby could develop a condition called ‘hydrops’ where there’s a build-up of fluid in tissues and organs, causing extreme swelling. Babies suffering from hydrops have very poor chances of survival.
The good news is, complications like anaemia and hydrops are preventable in babies. Once a gynaecologist knows that an expectant mother is Rh-, tests can be done to find out if her blood has antibodies. Steps can then be taken to protect the child.
Anaemia can be prevented by giving a blood transfusion to the baby while she is in the womb.
Even if the mother’s blood is found to be free of antibodies, she is usually given an injection called 'Anti-D' in the seventh month (28 weeks) of pregnancy. Six weeks after taking the first dose (at 34 weeks), and when the baby is born, the baby’s blood is tested, and if it proves to be Rh+ while the mother is Rh-, another dose of Anti-D injection is given to the mother. This will neutralise any of the baby’s blood cells that may have entered the mother’s blood stream and prevent the recognition and defence mechanisms that trigger antibodies formation.
Another possible danger to a newborn associated with blood groups is related to the ABO blood group. Sometimes the baby will be affected by jaundice because of blood group incompatibility. This is called the ABO Incompatibility. The treatment for this is phototherapy. In rare cases, a blood transfusion will be needed.
Some couples have doubts regarding the possible consequences to the baby if both partners have the same blood group. There is no danger in this at all.
The bottom line is that couples with any type of individual blood groups can have normal, healthy babies, with no danger to the mother either, provided screening tests are done at the proper time, and appropriate, timely action taken.
Also read: 16 FAQs Related To Pregnancy
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