The Rh Factor: How Does It Affect Your Pregnancy?
The Rhesus protein, or the Rh factor, is one of the important characteristics of blood cells and is also known as the D antigen. It specifies whether the blood of two people is compatible when mixed. Rh incompatibilities between a mother and her baby can lead to complications during pregnancy if not treated properly.
What is the Rh factor?
It is a type of protein found outside the red blood cells. The presence of these proteins in your blood cells make you Rh-positive. Otherwise, you are Rh-negative.
How do you get an Rh factor?
The RH factor is an inherited trait. It is genetically transferred from parents to children. If you inherit the dominant D antigen from one or both of your parents, then you are Rh-positive. If not, you are Rh-negative. If the father is Rh-positive and the mother is Rh-negative, then the fetus can receive the father's Rh factor.
What happens if there is Rh incompatibility during pregnancy?
Typically, being Rh-negative carries no potential risks. However, during pregnancy, being Rh-negative can cause complications if your baby is Rh-positive. This means you have Rh incompatibility with your baby. In such cases, when your blood mixes with your baby’s blood, your body will start to make antibodies that can damage your baby’s red blood cells, leading to hemolytic anemia and other associated problems for your baby. This is also called hemolytic disease of the newborn or HDN.
How do I know if I am Rh-negative or positive?
To learn if your blood type and determine whether you are RH negative or positive, you will have to do a simple blood test screening. These screening tests are typically performed at your first prenatal appointment. This screening test will help identify any Rh incompatibilities present between the mother and the fetus to take preventive measures against Rh sensitization.
Are there any benefits to being Rh-negative?
Only about 15% of the United States population has Rh-negative blood. There are specific pros and cons of having this blood type. For example, people who are Rh-negative may be immune to some of the effects of the parasite called Toxoplasma. This parasite is found to invade our body and cause damage to the brain, particularly in babies. Therefore, in places with a lot of Toxoplasma, having Rh negative type of blood might be advantageous. In addition to this, Rh-negative people may also be immune to other parasites or viruses, some of which may not have been discovered yet.
How is an Rh-negative pregnancy treated?
People with Rh-negative blood treat any Rh-positive blood as a foreign substance and make antibodies against it to protect itself. This is known as Rh sensitization. If you're Rh-negative but not yet Rh sensitized, you’ll need injections of a medication called RhoGAM at 28 or 29 weeks of pregnancy and within 72 hours after delivery to prevent complications. This injection prevents your body from making Rh antibodies that can harm your baby when pregnant. Also, your doctor may give you this injection in case you have a miscarriage, abortion, or ectopic pregnancy.
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