The Rh factor is a protein that some people have on the surface of their red blood cells.
Rh incompatibility by itself isn't a problem. Rh incompatibility becomes a problem if some of your baby’s Rh-positive blood gets into your Rh-negative blood. Many people think that a baby's blood doesn't mix with the mother's blood. However, this mixing often happens when you:
When your baby’s Rh-positive blood gets into your Rh-negative blood, your body's immune system reacts badly. Your immune system makes a protein called an Rh antibody to fight against your baby's Rh-positive blood. Those Rh antibodies can get into and destroy your baby's Rh-positive blood cells.
Rh incompatibility doesn't harm a first pregnancy because you won't have any Rh antibodies until after you deliver your first baby or have a miscarriage.
Rh incompatibility can harm a second (or later) pregnancy. If you have Rh antibodies from an earlier pregnancy, now your Rh-positive baby could have problems. Your Rh antibodies may destroy some of your baby's red blood cells and cause your baby to have:
The more times you've been pregnant with Rh incompatibility, the more Rh antibodies you have. The more Rh antibodies you have, the worse the problems for your next baby.
At your first doctor’s visit during a pregnancy, you'll have a blood test look for the Rh factor.
If you’re Rh-positive, there's no problem.
If you’re Rh-negative, your baby’s father should have a blood test to look for the Rh factor:
If you’re Rh-negative and your baby’s father hasn't been tested or if he's Rh-positive, you'll have blood tests throughout your pregnancy to look for Rh antibodies.
If your blood tests show that your body is making a lot of Rh antibodies, you'll have more tests to see if your baby has anemia (not enough healthy red blood cells). Those tests can include taking a sample of blood from the baby and having a special ultrasound (taking moving pictures of the insides of your uterus) to look at the blood flow in your baby’s brain.
If your baby has anemia, your baby will get one or more blood transfusions before birth (and maybe even after birth)
Doctors often give you medicines called corticosteroids to help your baby’s lungs grow
When your baby’s lungs have grown enough to work well outside your body, doctors will artificially start (induce) labor
If you have Rh-negative blood, doctors will give you a shot of Rh0(D) immune globulin. This shot makes your body less able to react to your baby’s Rh-positive blood. That makes you less likely to make Rh antibodies that can hurt your baby. You’ll get these shots: