MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: what blood types are compatible to producing healthy children

Date: Tue Jan 30 23:00:51 2001
Posted By: Sarah Martin Mason, Medical student, Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine
Area of science: Anatomy
ID: 980124636.An

Dear Donna,
When speaking of blood type, most people are referring to whether their 
blood is A, B, AB, or O.  Any combination of these blood types can produce 
a healthy baby.  A problem can potentially arise, however, if a mother's 
blood cells are Rh negative and a father's are Rh positive.  The Rh factor 
is a molecule on red blood cells.  If a person's blood is Rh negative, they 
do not have this molecule on their blood cells.  So, if a pregnant woman 
has Rh negative blood and the father of her baby has Rh positive blood, 
there is a chance the baby will also have Rh positive blood.  During birth 
(or miscarriage or abortion)  this Rh negative mother can be exposed to the 
blood of her Rh positive baby, due to the traumatic nature of the birthing 
process. If some of this baby's blood enters the bloodstream of the mother, 
the mother's immune system will detect the Rh factor on the baby's blood 
cells and will begin to attack these cells with antibodies.  The first time 
the mother is exposed to the Rh factor, there is usually no harm done 
because the mother's immune system will not have time to make enough 
antibodies to harm the baby.  But, if this woman becomes pregnant again, 
her immune system is armed with millions of antibodies against the Rh 
factor, and if her baby is Rh positive the baby can be harmed.  This harm 
can range from jaundice and slight anemia to the death of the baby.  
This condition sounds very serious, but it is, in fact, very easy to 
prevent.  On a pregnant woman's first prenatal visit her blood is tested.  
If her blood is Rh negative she will be given two injections that will 
prevent any harm to her baby.  One of the injections will be given when she 
is 28 weeks pregnant and another shortly after the birth of her child.  
This is one reason why it is important to visit a doctor as soon as you 
suspect you may be pregnant.
Thank you very much for your question.

Sarah Martin Mason

Reference: Tabsh, Khalil and Nancy Theroux.  Essentials of Obstetrics and 
Gynecology. Saunders. 1992. pp.305-6.

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