Who Is at Risk for Rh Incompatibility?

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Kunle Emmanuel
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Who Is at Risk for Rh Incompatibility?

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When a mother and her unborn baby carry different Rh protein factors, their condition is called Rh incompatibility. It occurs when a mother is Rh-negative and her baby is Rh- positive. The Rh factor is a specific protein found on the surface of your red blood cells.

Like your blood type, you inherit your Rh factor type from your parents. Most people are Rh-positive, but a small percentage of people are Rh-negative. This means they lack the Rh protein. A positive or negative symbol after your blood type indicates your Rh factor. For example, “blood type: AB+” might be written on your medical record.

Your Rh factor doesn’t directly affect your health. However, Rh factor becomes important during pregnancy. If a woman is Rh-negative and her baby is Rh-positive, then her body will approach the Rh-positive protein as something that’s foreign.

This means that if blood cells from your baby cross your bloodstream, which can happen during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, your immune system will make antibodies against your baby’s red blood cells. Antibodies are parts of your body’s immune system. They destroy foreign substances.

If you have an Rh-negative blood type, you’re considered sensitized to your baby once your body has made these antibodies. This means that your body might send these antibodies across the placenta to attack your baby’s red blood cells. Your placenta is the organ that connects you and your baby.

Medication can help with this condition to ensure that both you and your baby are healthy.

What Are the Symptoms of Rh Incompatibility?

Your baby may have one or more of the following symptoms if their bilirubin levels are high after birth:

•yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, which is called jaundice
•low muscle tone

These symptoms will subside once treatment for the Rh incompatibility is completed.

Who Is at Risk for Rh Incompatibility?

Any woman who is Rh-negative and is having a child with a father who is Rh-positive or with an unknown Rh status is at risk for Rh incompatibility. About 13 percent marriages have this kind of matchup.

It takes time for the body to develop antibodies, so firstborn children are usually not affected. However, if a mother became sensitized because of a miscarriage or abortion, her first birth may be affected by Rh incompatibility.

A mother can be exposed Rh-positive blood during certain prenatal tests. One example is amniocentesis. In this test, your doctor uses a needle to remove some of the fluid from the sac around your baby. This fluid can be tested for problems in the developing fetus.

You can prevent the effects of Rh incompatibility by getting an injection of Rh immune globulins (RhIg) during your first trimester, during a miscarriage, or while having any bleeding during your pregnancy. This blood product contains antibodies to the Rh factor. If your baby has Rh-positive blood, you should get a second injection a few days after you give birth.
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