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Rh factor, Rh factor impact pregnancy

Rh factor and how it impacts your pregnancy

Your blood type is either positive or negative. This indicates the presence or absence of a protein called Rh (rhesus) protein in your blood. Checking for blood type is the possibly the most preliminary test done when you are pregnant.  

The Rh factor is passed through genes. Which means the foetus will either have a positive or negative blood type depending on the parents’ blood type. If the expectant mother is Rh negative and her foetus is Rh negative, it results in a complication called Rh incompatibility.  

Why is Rh incompatibility a complication? 

If you are Rh-negative and any amount of Rh-positive blood mixes with yours, your body treats the presence of the Rh protein as an intruder. It then creates antibodies (anti-Rh antibodies) to destroy the Rh-positive protein. These antibodies can then cross the placenta and attack the foetus’s blood cells causing serious health risks for the foetus or new-born which can also prove to be fatal.   

When does Rh incompatibility cause concern?  

Don’t be too alarmed if you discover that your pregnancy has Rh incompatibility. As long as it is detected early in the pregnancy, your doctor would monitor the condition and provide treatment to minimise risk.  

In fact, in most cases, your blood doesn’t mix with your baby’s blood during pregnancy. Risk of contact increases during labour and delivery as well as during amniocentesis, bleeding during pregnancy, move the foetus during breech presentation or abdominal trauma during pregnancy. 

How is Rh incompatibility managed? 

If you are Rh negative, you would have to undergo an antibody screen during your first trimester. This test detects the presence of anti-Rh antibodies. If it isn’t present, you would be given a dose of Rh immune globulin, so as to prevent your body from producing anti-Rh antibodies during your pregnancy. If your baby is born Rh positive, you might be given another dose of the same medication after delivery, which isn’t required if your baby is Rh negative.  

What happens if the antibody screen detects Rh antibodies?  

If Rh antibodies crosses the placenta and enters the foetal blood stream, it can result in Rh diseases such as life-threatening anaemia; a condition in which the foetal red blood cells are destroyed faster than they are produced. If the antibody screen detects the presence of Rh antibodies then you are said to be Rh sensitised. In this case, the only course forward is to monitor foetal health and manage the condition. This is done by giving the baby blood transfusions through the umbilical cord during the pregnancy or immediately after delivery as required. For some cases, the doctor might also decide to deliver the baby before full term.   

Can Rh incompatibility be a complication even if the pregnancy is not carried to term? 

Rh sensitisation can occur in the event of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and induced abortion. This can case complications in subsequent pregnancies in case of Rh incompatibility. If you have undergone any of the above events and are not Rh sensitised, your doctor might advise you to take a dose of Rh immunoglobulin to prevent complications in subsequent pregnancies.  

What can you do, if you are Rh negative? 

First things first, do not panic. Understand the condition clearly by discussing it at length with your doctor. Maintain regular prenatal visits to monitor the condition. Today, with improvements in testing and treatment has significantly improved the prognosis of Rh incompatibility. This is evident as now, most babies with Rh disease survive and lead healthy normal lives. Relax and focus on maintaining a healthy pregnancy by making good lifestyle choices.  

FAQs 

Ques: Is Rh incompatibility a problem if I am Rh positive?
If you are Rh positive, it does not cause Rh sensitisation. This is because the absence of Rh protein in the foetal blood stream won’t stimulate the production of Rh antibodies.   

Ques: Can being Rh negative result in miscarriage?
Being Rh negative can result in Rh incompatibility if the foetus has Rh positive blood type. With early detection and proper treatment, the condition can be managed. Regular prenatal visits can help in managing this condition and preventing it from complicating.  

Read: Pregnancy Loss/Miscarriage

Dr. Anjali Kumar
Author: Dr. Anjali Kumar
Dr. Anjali Kumar specializes in developing patient protocols to increase normal delivery rates and VBACs (Vaginal Births After Caesarean). Her key areas of expertise include advanced minimally invasive procedures to treat ectopic pregnancies, ovarian cysts, fertility enhancement and endometriosis.
 
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