Fetal Blood Transfusion
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Fetal Blood Transfusion?

This procedure is done when a baby that is still in the womb suffers from severe anemia . Anemia is a lack of red blood cells. When the baby's blood count falls too low, a transfusion is needed. A transfusion means giving the baby red blood cells from a donor.

There are two types of fetal blood transfusions:

  • Intravascular transfusion (IVT)—done through the mother’s abdomen into the fetus’ umbilical cord; more common procedure
  • Intraperitoneal transfusion (IPT)—done through the mother’s abdomen and uterus into the fetus’ abdomen; usually only done if IVT is impossible to do because of the position of the baby and the umbilical cord

Fetal blood transfusions are done because the baby in the womb is suffering from severe anemia and could die without this transfusion. Anemia can be caused by:

  • Rh incompatibility —the mother and baby have a different type of blood, and mother’s antibodies to fetal blood cells lyse (destroy) fetal blood cells.
  • Parvovirus B19 infection —a viral infection the mother can get

The goals of fetal blood transfusions are to:

  • Prevent or treat fetal hydrops before delivery—Hydrops is caused by severe anemia in the fetus. The fetus develops heart failure. This leads to fluid collecting in the skin, lungs, abdomen, or around the heart.
  • Continue pregnancy so the baby can be born close to term

Possible Complications

Possible complications for mother and fetus include:

  • Need for cesarean section (C-section) due to fetal distress after the procedure
  • Premature labor
  • Graft versus host disease in the fetus (a rare condition in which the donor’s blood cells attack the baby's blood cells)
  • Abdominal bruising or soreness
  • Bleeding, cramping, or leaking fluid from vagina
  • Infection
  • Injury to the fetus
  • Giving too much blood
  • Fetal bleeding
  • Causing your water to break

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

Call Your Doctor

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever or chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing...