Rhesus disease and Anti-D injections
If you have ‘rhesus negative’ blood you may need anti-d injections to ensure your baby doesn’t develop rhesus disease. Here’s the lowdown on blood types, avoiding rhesus disease and critical injections you may need. If you need injections, worry not - they’re safe, quick and easy!
Why does my blood type matter?
haven’t given your blood much thought before, but when you get pregnant, you
suddenly get the full lowdown, because if you and your baby have different blood
types it can cause rhesus disease.
You don’t need
to worry in your first pregnancy, but if you are ‘rhesus negative’, you may
need to have ‘Anti-D’ injections during your second pregnancy to keep your baby
How do I find out if I’m rhesus
At your first antenatal appointment you’ll probably have a test to find out which blood group you have - A, B, AB or O. You’ll also find out if your
blood is ‘rhesus positive’ or ‘rhesus negative’, and this is the important bit.
If you have rhesus
positive blood you don’t need to do anything, but if you’re rhesus negative,
you may need ‘Anti-D’ injections to protect your baby. About 15% of women are
What causes rhesus disease?
Rhesus disease can
develop when you have rhesus negative blood and your unborn baby has rhesus
positive blood. It really becomes a problem though when you’ve been ‘sensitised’
by exposure to rhesus positive blood in the past – usually during a previous
pregnancy with an RhD positive baby.
responds to the rhesus positive blood by producing antibodies
(infection-fighting molecules) that attack the foreign blood cells. These can
cross the placenta, causing rhesus disease in the unborn baby. The antibodies
can also keep attacking the baby's red blood cells for a few months after
What is rhesus disease?
doesn't harm the mum, but it can cause the baby to become anaemic and develop
jaundice. In the most severe cases it can cause stillbirth. There’s no need to
worry though - rhesus disease is very uncommon these days, because it can
usually be prevented by the ‘Anti-D’ injections.
A few injections
of ‘Anti-D’ will stop your body from producing antibodies against your baby,
and reduce the chances of you becoming ‘sensitised’ too.
When do I have ‘Anti-D injections?
You can have a one-off
injection at 28-30 weeks, or two separate injections at 28 and 34 weeks. It’s
all very easy – the injections take just a few seconds and are quite safe for you
and your baby.
What if I’m already ‘sensitised’
If you’ve developed
anti-D antibodies in a previous pregnancy, this means you’re already sensitised
and the injections won't be able to help. But you and your baby will be monitored
more closely than usual, both during pregnancy and when your baby is born, to
keep your baby safe.
Treating rhesus disease
unlikely an unborn baby will develop rhesus disease, but if they do the treatment
they receive depends on how severe it is. In extreme cases, the unborn baby may
need a blood tranfusion. After delivery, the baby could be admitted to a neonatal
hospital unit for newborn babies. Treatment for rhesus disease after delivery
can include a light treatment called phototherapy, blood transfusions, and an
injection of a solution of antibodies (intravenous immunoglobulin) to prevent
red blood cells.