Rh factor is a protein that sits on red blood cells. If you have this protein, you’re Rh positive. If you don’t, you’re Rh negative. Just 18 percent of the population has an Rh negative blood type.
When it comes to your health, it really doesn’t matter which you have — even if you ever need a blood transfusion, doctors can easily make sure you receive Rh negative blood. However, concerns come up during pregnancy (what isn’t a concern during pregnancy?) when negative and positive blood have the potential of mixing.
- There’s a 50 percent chance your baby will inherit your negative Rh factor, which means you’re both Rh compatible. All is AOK, with no treatment needed.
- There’s also a 50 percent chance your baby will inherit their father’s Rh positive factor, and that results in Rh incompatibility.
Determining Rh incompatibility can be as simple as taking blood samples from you, and, ideally, the baby’s dad.
- If both parents are Rh negative, the baby is too.
- If both parents are Rh positive, the baby is Rh positive.
- A blood test is usually done at one of your first prenatal visits.
And — get used to those needle sticks — if you’re Rh negative, your doctor will also do a screening blood test to check for Rh antibodies.
- Antibodies are proteins your immune system makes to fight off substances foreign to your body (like Rh positive blood).
- If you have antibodies, it means you’ve already been exposed to Rh positive blood — from a previous delivery, for example, an abortion, or even a mismatched blood transfusion.
- Your baby is at risk for Rh incompatibility if their dad is Rh positive.
- You may need this screening test several times throughout pregnancy to gauge your level of antibodies (the higher they are, the more severe your baby’s complications may be).
- If you do have antibodies, RhoGAM won’t help your baby. But don’t freak out. Doctors can:
- order screening tests, like an ultrasound, to monitor your baby’s development
- give your baby a blood transfusion via the umbilical cord, before your baby ever checks out of the Comfort Inn that is your womb
- suggest an early delivery
More reasons to stay calm:
- Sometimes your baby’s Rh incompatibility can produce only mild complications that don’t require treatment.
- First pregnancies aren’t usually affected by Rh incompatibility. That’s because it can take longer than 9 months for an Rh negative mom to make antibodies that fight Rh positive blood.
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