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What it Means to be Rh Negative

Katlyn Joy |26, January 2015


At your first prenatal visit, expect to get a lot of information and have a lot of tests run. Because of that, you may get a case of information overload.

One test that should be administered at the first prenatal visit is a blood test to check for Rh factor. This has probably never come up before in your whole life of doctor's visits. However, it is important now.

What Is Rh Factor?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Rh factor is a protein that may or may not be present on the surface of red blood cells. The majority of people have the protein, and therefore are Rh positive. If you lack the protein, you are Rh negative. This is a subtype of your blood, just as you may be type O, A, B and such. In the US, fifteen percent of white people are Rh negative while only 5 to 8 percent of African American or Hispanic people are.

Only 1 to 2 percent of Asian or Native Americans are Rh negative.

How did I become Rh negative?

If both your parents were Rh negative, you would be Rh negative as well. If one parent was negative and one positive, then you could be either type. It's strictly an inherited blood classification.

How Does Being Rh Negative Affect My Health?

Well, that's the thing. It doesn't, at least not until you are pregnant, and then it isn't you who is affected, but rather your children, and specifically your second or later kids in most cases.

What is Rh Disease and How Does it Happen?

Sometimes during pregnancy, but far more often during labor, some of baby's blood can come into contact with yours. If you both are Rh positive, no big deal. However, if you are negative and baby positive, you may develop Rh sensitivity. This is when your body produces antibodies to baby's positive blood. Usually, this occurs in labor so the first pregnancy will go by unaffected. However, in a subsequent pregnancy following Rh sensitization, the mother's antibodies will cross the placenta and attack baby's red blood cells possibly causing a serious, perhaps even fatal, form of anemia.

How Do You Prevent Rh Disease in Babies?

Once you've been identified as Rh negative during that early prenatal visit, you'll also receive another test to check for Rh sensitization. This test is called an antibody screen. If that's already occurred for some reason, your fetus will be monitored throughout the pregnancy to make sure anemia has not developed or the level of anemia. This is typically done through frequent Doppler ultrasounds, or sometimes through amniocentesis. Mother's blood will be checked regularly for antibodies. If baby develops anemia, and it's severe enough, baby can receive a blood transfusion via the umbilical cord as early as the 18th week of pregnancy.

If baby is nearly full term, the decision may be made to induce labor. Baby may require a blood transfusion, and if jaundiced, will also need treatment with special light therapy.

About 10 percent of fetuses with Rh disease develop severe anemia. This was once a fatal condition, but today with the rise of technology and better monitoring and treatment, 90 percent of babies will survive.

If the antibody test shows mom is not Rh sensitized, she will get treatment to prevent Rh disease in her offspring. This injection of Rh immunoglobulin or RhIg. RhIg is made of donated blood and will prevent a woman from developing antibodies. She will usually get this shot around the 28th week of pregnancy and in other cases such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling or CVS, abdominal trauma or if a breech baby is manually turned by doctor. If there is bleeding in pregnancy, the injection will also be required. If baby is born Rh positive, you'll get a shot soon after birth.

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