Blood Groups and Rhesus Factors During Pregnancy

Everyone has a given blood type (either O, A, B or AB) and Rhesus factor (Rh factor – either positive of negative). During your first clinic visit your doctor will conduct a blood test to determine your blood type and Rhesus factor among other things. If you already know that you are Rhesus negative and discover you are pregnant it is best not to hold off your first clinic visit.

What is a Rhesus factor?

A Rhesus factor protein is usually found on the red blood cells and if present one is considered to be Rh positive. If this protein is not present then one is considered to be Rh negative. The Rh positive gene is always stronger and if one has both a Rh positive and a Rh negative gene they will be considered to be Rh positive as shown in the diagram below.

What are the risks of having Rh negative blood during pregnancy?

If a mother is Rh negative and her fetus is Rh negative then there shouldn’t be any risk with the pregnancy. However, if a mother is Rh negative and her baby is Rh positive then there is a risk of the baby’s blood passing through the placenta and into the mothers system. When this happens the mothers immune system develops antibodies (a blood protein which fights off infections) to attack these cells a process often referred to as sensitization. The risk of sensitization is that the Rh antibodies could in turn cross the placenta and attack the red blood cells of the fetus leading to hemolytic anemia, jaundice and/or cause a miscarriage.

Is there a way to prevent sensitization?

Your doctor will opt to minimize the risk of sensitization by giving you an anti-D injection which helps prevent development of Rh antibodies by clearing up any Rh positive cells in the mother’s blood stream. Your doctor will advise on when to administer these injections and the frequency. You might also require regular blood test to determine if you have any Rh positive cells in your blood stream.

What is Anti-D Immunoglobulin?

This is a component gotten from donated blood of an individual who has developed antibodies against positive blood.

What happens after I give birth?

After you deliver your baby, your doctor will take a sample of blood from your babies cut umbilical cord to determine his/her Rh factor. They will also conduct another test called a Kleihauer test or Quantitative Feto-Maternal Hemorrhage test (QFMH) to establish how much of your baby’s blood might have entered your blood stream.

Finding out that you have Rh negative blood can be overwhelming. It is advisable to talk to your spouse, friend or any trusted party about what you are going through to help you cope. In addition, feel free to ask your doctor any questions or raise any concerns you might have.

Are you a mother with a Rh negative blood type? Kindly share your story on the comment section below to encourage any other mother going through the same.

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