Blood incompatibility between you and baby: What you need to know

Learn why a rhesus incompatibility spells bad news for you and bubba plus how this condition is treated.

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Blood not only provides your baby’s body with nutrition and oxygen, it also aids in removing of waste.

But if this life-supporting fluid blood is incompatible with your foetus’, your little one could develop potentially fatal health conditions.

SmartParents expert and consultant ob-gyn at Gleneagles Hospital, Dr Christopher Chong estimates that blood incompatibility can occur in at least one in 1,000 births.

When left untreated, the high bilirubin levels in you mini-me’s body may even travel up to their brain, resulting in kernicterus — a potentially fatal brain dysfunction — a precursor to cerebral palsy

There are only two kinds of blood incompatibilities:

* An ABO incompatibility Because there are four different blood groups ― A, B, AB and O ― your baby could have a different blood group from yours. Although it might cause some complications, these aren’t as serious as Rh incompatibility.

* A Rhesus factor (Rh) incompatibility Rhesus is a specific kind of protein that may or may not be present in you or your kewpie’s blood. For instance, while you might belong to the AB+ — the plus sign refers to the presence of the rhesus protein —your kewpie may be AB-.

An Rh incompatibility isn’t much of a problem if this is your first pregnancy. It might however pose a danger to your foetus’ development in your second or subsequent pregnancies because antibodies might develop at the end of your first pregnancy.

So, disease-fighting proteins found in blood, called antibodies, enter your little one from the placenta. Complications arise when these antibodies mistake your child’s blood cells as a foreign infection. This, in turn, causes a surge in bilirubin — a waste material from the breakdown of red blood cells — in bubba’s body. It is also the same substance that is causes jaundice, the yellowing of your mini-me’s skin and eyes.

If left untreated, the high bilirubin levels in your mini-me’s body may even travel up to their brain, resulting in kernicterus — a potentially fatal brain dysfunction — a precursor to cerebral palsy.

 

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Dr Chong also points out that blood tests aren’t done routinely during pregnancy, so it is usually assessed only after delivery — if your baby lives that long. Dr Chong cautions that at least 50 per cent of such foetuses don’t survive.

Surviving babies will face severe lifelong health conditions which compromises their quality of life, such as:

* Foetal distress resulting in premature birth and C-section.

* Growth restrictions.

* Immature organs.

* Lower intelligence and a learning disability.

* Cardiac problems and severe anaemia.

Your ob-gyn will be able to spot certain signs that your child had blood incompatibility issues while in utero. Dr Chong explains, “[Serial ultrasound scans should reveal] excessive fluid collecting in the tissues covering the lungs, heart and skin and also in the abdominal cavity.” Your placenta may also swell in size and there will also be excessive fluid in the water bag.

“[Serial ultrasound scans should reveal] excessive fluid collecting in the tissues covering the lungs, heart and skin and also in the abdominal cavity.”

If the incompatibility is discovered early during your pregnancy, your gynae may inject Rh-immune globulin — a form of antibody — to your arms or buttocks. These shots will be made during the seventh month of your pregnancy and again within 72 hours of delivery. The antibody prevents your blood cells from reacting to baby’s blood as a foreign substance.

The ob-gyn will monitor you and your foetus to ensure the safety and health of you and your foetus.

As far as post-natal treatment goes Dr Chong explains that a full blood transfusion will need to be done to treat anaemia, along with the removal of any accumulated fluid from their body parts. While this method offers your mini-me the best chance of survival, Dr Chong adds, “Even then, the results are generally not as good as what we would want it to be.”

Photos: iStock

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