Hemolytic Disease

Also known as: erythroblastosis fetalis.

What is hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn?

Hemolytic disease of the newborn is a condition that occurs when a mother’s blood type is not compatible with her unborn fetus.

Mothers’ (and all humans) blood is categorized by blood type. Each blood type depends on the presence or absence of specific molecules on the surface of red blood cells (called antigens; Rh, A , B, AB and O and others). Blood also contains specialized proteins (called antibodies) which can destroy a different red blood cell type (Rh positive blood has the Rh antigen but no Rh antibody- Rh negative blood has no Rh antigen or Rh antibody).

If a mother is Rh negative and her fetus is Rh positive, any blood passing from baby to mother will result in the mother's blood producing antibodies to it (incompatible blood types) which will cross the placenta and attack and destroy the baby's red cells.

This process is called hemolysis, and occurs not only with Rh incompatibility, but also with type O mothers and in the presence of other blood types.

What are the signs/symptoms of hemolytic disease of the newborn?

Jaundice, pallor (anemia), a large liver and spleen and swelling with fluid (edema) under the skin (hydrops).

What are hemolytic disease care options?

Serial monitoring of the mother and fetus from around 15 weeks gestation may be required, and depending on severity, intrauterine transfusion of the fetus until 34-35 weeks gestation, when delivery may normally be planned.

Other treatment options (exchange transfusions etc.) will be discussed with you by your Nicklaus Children's Fetal Care Services Perinatologist/ Neonatologist.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: May 22, 2023 10:40 AM

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The Fetal Care Service team offers support to families expecting an infant with medical needs that require intervention at birth. We provide comprehensive, coordinated care from prenatal diagnosis to the transition to infant care.

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