A transfusion is giving healthy blood or blood products from a donor. In this case, red blood cells are given to an unborn baby (fetus).
There are two types of fetal blood transfusions:
A transfusion is needed when the fetus has severe anemia. Anemia is a low level of red blood cells. Severe anemia in a fetus can cause death. Anemia can be caused by:
Anemia can cause a problem called hydrops. Hydrops is severe, life-threatening swelling in the fetus. A fetal blood transfusion is done to:
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
The care team may meet with you to talk about:
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Before the transfusion, you may be given:
Medicine will be used to numb a small area of the belly.
With IVT, medicine may be used to keep the fetus still for a short time. This will lower the risk of injury to the fetus. During both IVT and IPT, the doctor will watch the fetus with an ultrasound.
A needle will be inserted into the belly. The needle will be passed through the uterus and into the umbilical cord. (With IPT, it will pass in the fetal belly instead of cord.) The donor blood will be passed to the fetus.
A final blood sample will be taken. It will show the change to the fetus's blood.
Transfusions may need to be repeated every 2 to 4 weeks until it is safe to deliver.
About 1 to 2 hours
There will be some pain and cramping where the needle is inserted. The uterus may feel sore.
Some people go home the same day. Others may need to stay longer.
At the Care Center
The staff may give you:
It may take a few hours to feel the baby move again—if the baby was given medicine.
Call your doctor if you have:
Know the signs of early labor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Pregnancy Association
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Abbasi N, Johnson JA, et al. Fetal anemia. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2017;50(2):145-153.
Hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn (HDFN). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hemolytic-disease-of-the-fetus-and-newborn-hdfn. Accessed July 30, 2021.
Rhesus disease. National Health Services website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rhesus-disease/treatment/. Accessed July 30, 2021.
Rh factor. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/rhfactor.html. Accessed July 30, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD