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When your unborn child needs more blood

Health & Science

A smooth pregnancy and an easy delivery is every mother-to-be’s dream.

But sometimes, complications arise. And that is why regular checks are necessary throughout the pregnancy term. Sometimes they will find that the baby has developed severe anaemia.

This could have been due to incompatibility between unborn baby and mother’s blood types. Incompatibility in most cases occurs when the antibodies in the blood of the mother fights the red blood cells in the baby’s blood due to different blood types.

It can also be caused by temporary slowing of red blood cell production which is mostly caused by a Parvovirus B19 infection, a common childhood complication resulting to foetal anaemia.

This is especially dangerous if it occurs before the 20th week of pregnancy as it can lead to death of both baby and mother, premature birth or baby’s heart failure.

Usually doctors will give the said mother iron supplements and dietary recommendations that are meant to boost their blood levels and for the case of incompatibility, an injection called Anti D is administered. This sometimes works perfectly. 

But thanks to the beauty of innovation and technology, a new procedure called Intrauterine foetal blood transfusion that is safer and more effective is here with us. The technology has however been adopted by only one hospital in Kenya. 

This procedure can be done in one of two ways.  

The first technique is where blood is transferred directly into the baby’s abdomen. This is a slower method as it takes a while before the blood gets into the baby’s system. It also tends to be a rather stressful affair for the developing foetus due to the changes in blood volume in the blood vessels, but this settles down approximately 24 hours after the procedure.

The second method involves the mother being sedated using an anaesthesia that renders her unconscious and minimises foetal movement during the procedure.

In an operating room, the mother is put through an ultrasound guidance system that helps doctors observe via a screen, where the umbilical cord is so that blood can be added to the unborn baby through the umbilical cord.

The blood type contains red blood cells that are compatible with the foetus blood. About 30-200 ml is transfused in a single procedure with a 10ml amount taking 1-2 minutes, once the procedure is done, the mother can go home.

Intrauterine transfusion is mainly done between 18 to 35 months of pregnancy period and may need to be done for several months or weeks to ensure the well-being of the unborn baby.

Like any other surgery, there are risks involved. These could be premature labour, infection, cramping, vaginal bleeding or discharge.

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