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What is Erythroblastosis Fetalis?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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Erythroblastosis fetalis, also known as hemolytic disease of the newborn, is a serious blood disorder which can occur when a fetus and a mother have incompatible blood types. This condition can be fatal for the infant, and it can also lead to serious complications such as organ damage to the developing fetus. A number of steps can be taken to prevent erythroblastosis fetalis and to address the condition when it arises, yet another reason why expecting mothers should receive routine prenatal care.

Two different blood incompatibilities are linked with erythroblastosis fetalis: Rh incompatibilities and ABO incompatibilities. In both cases, the mother develops antibodies to the baby's blood, and these antibodies enter the fetus, destroying red blood cells and causing anemia and a variety of other complications. The condition most commonly occurs during a second pregnancy, after a mother has been exposed to an incompatible blood type through delivery of a healthy baby or through an abortion, when fetal blood can enter the mother's body. Erythroblastosis fetalis can also be induced through a blood transfusion with incompatible blood.

In the first trimester of pregnancy, women are given a blood test which can determine whether or not they are at risk for erythroblastosis fetalis. If a mother is Rh negative, for example, the father may be tested to see if he is Rh positive, indicating that the erythroblastosis fetalis could develop. The mother's blood can also be tested for antibodies to incompatible blood types. If erythroblastosis fetalis does occur, it will be necessary to closely monitor the pregnancy. Treatments can include blood transfusions for the fetus, or early delivery as soon as the fetus is viable to prevent damage from erythroblastosis fetalis.

Women can reduce the risk of an Rh incompatibility by receiving an injection of Rhogam within 72 hours of a birth. This immunoglobulin will kill off fetal cells in the mother's blood before she has a chance to develop antibodies to them, which means that her future pregnancies should not be complicated by Rh incompatibility. Injections are also recommended after the abortion of an Rh positive fetus for the same reason.

Rh incompatibilities have been greatly reduced by the use of immunoglobulin injections, cutting down on the number of cases of erythroblastosis fetalis. Women who intend to have children in the future after a pregnancy or abortion should discuss Rh incompatibilities with their doctor to determine whether or not they need injections.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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